I’ve seen this bottle in every wine store I’ve been in over the past couple of months, so I presume it’s attracted some critical mass of popularity and is doing well for itself. I didn’t buy it for that reason, however, or because of its admittedly compelling bottle frosting and showstopper labelling. I bought it because I felt sure that the makeup of this red blend was some sort of elaborate winemaker’s pun. 19 Crimes is a mixture of Shiraz and Durif. Shiraz, as I discussed in my last review, is the same grape as Syrah. Durif also has a more commonly known alias; in North America and elsewhere, it’s usually called Petite Sirah. So this wine is actually a Syrah/Petite Sirah blend…Syrahs of all sizes? Not quite. Petite Sirah is not a type or class of Syrah but a stand-alone grape variety…and while we’re at it, nothing about it is petite at all once it hits the glass: its diminutive first name refers to the size of its grapes on the vine rather than its flavours or structure. Since Petite Sirah’s grapes are smaller, this creates a larger ratio of skins to juice, and since the skins are where a red wine’s colour and tannin resides, this makes most Petite Sirahs deep, thick, opaque and massive. But still not Syrahs. Who said learning about wine was hard?
The name “19 Crimes” refers to a list of 19 transgressions in 18th century Britain that were punishable by deportation to the newly-found penal colony of Australia. The dangerous-looking Old Tyme-y men on the labels of the bottles were actual prisoners sent away to the continent who became some of the first (European) inhabitants of a land that, 200-odd years later, now makes Shiraz Durif blends for mass international export with their pictures on it. The stories of these unwitting cover models, as well as the full list of the 19 deportation-worthy crimes, can be found on the producer’s minimalistic website; I am a particular fan of Crime #5, which would suggest against going as a mummy or Cleopatra for Hallowe’en this year (or any year). As shown below, the Crimes also make a cameo appearance on the wine’s corks in the most brilliant way possible — THIS is how you maximize the memorability of your corks, people. Love it.
Once I got past the linguistic varietal wordplay and the catchy back-story, I remembered there was a wine to try, and an extraordinarily purple one at it. Holy purple: coming out of the bottle, the 19 Crimes was an absolutely electric shade of deep, glass-coating violet. A wine that colour should have been pulsating with flavour, so I was surprised to stick my nose in the glass and discover a muted, slightly closed nose of blackberry jam, sweet spice (clove, nutmeg), coffee and mesquite…the aromas were right and fit my expectations of the bottle, but they came across as tight and nowhere near as exuberant as expected. One sip restored my faith in the penal colony, however, as the 19 Crimes rolled out all of the comfort wine stylings of Aussie Shiraz (warming, soft, full of lush flavour), with a slight twist: a level of balance and an impressively imposing tannic background that showcased how Durif can level out and give structure to the looser, more flamboyant Shiraz in a blend. The palate offered heaps of blueberry and blackberry, along with oak-induced flavours of chocolate, hickory and smoke, all easing their way into a tangy, an almost citrus-tinged finish. Even though it featured all of the standard flavour descriptors of the blunt-instrument style of fruity, oaky, soppy wine that has allowed cheap Australian wine to make its name, they were presented in a refined, slightly restrained, level-headed sort of fashion, staying impressively put-together for a sub-$20 bottle. As a result, this is not a wine you tire of after a single glass, but one that might keep you coming back to collect all 19 cork crimes.
I may have thought it was a grammatical trick before, but I am now fully on board the Shiraz/Durif Syrah/Petite Sirah blend train — to me the 19 Crimes is an inexpensive bottle whose whole is clearly greater than the sum of its parts and whose Durif-derived acidic and tannic structure elevates it above the oceans of Shiraz-only bottles beside it on the liquor store shelves. Nothing about it is mind-blowing, but I think it does represent an evolution in how the Australian wine industry is approaching its mass-market offerings. It’s not just about fruit and booze anymore (this wine clocks in at a shockingly normal 14% abv), and that’s definitely a good thing.
$15 to $20 CDN