Flavored fortified wines

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MD 20/20 bottles

Flavored fortified wines (sometimes called bum wines or twist-cap wines) are inexpensive fortified wines that typically have an alcohol content between 13% and 20% alcohol by volume (ABV). They are usually made of grape and citrus wine, sugar, artificial color, and artificial flavor.


Constellation brands produced multiple brands of flavored fortified wines (Bright's Pale Dry Select Sherry, Cisco, and Richards Wild Irish Rose), as did the E & J Gallo Winery, whose three popular brands of fortified wines played a large part of that company's early success[citation needed] (Night Train Express, Ripple, and Thunderbird). Each of these brands, and their competitors, are detailed below.

  • 777 is a Russian "port wine" similar to Solntsedar, but still in production.
  • Bright's Pale Dry Select Sherry, produced by Constellation Brands, is available in Canada and the Northern United States. Though nominally a sherry, it's been noted as having a high alcohol content by volume (20%), and has been characterized as very sweet [1] at 27 g/L of sugar. At $5–8 per bottle, it has a reputation as a potent value bumwine, though the intensely sweet flavor makes it difficult to consume unaccompanied.
  • Buckfast Tonic Wine is a caffeine- and sugar-laced tonic wine with added alcohol, produced under license from Buckfast Abbey, a Roman Catholic monastery located in Devon, England. It is very popular in Glasgow and Coatbridge in Scotland, but critics have blamed it for being one cause of social problems in Scotland. Some have called it "Wreck the Hoose Juice".[2]
  • Cisco is the brand name of a fortified wine produced by the Centerra Wine Company (a division of Constellation Brands) with varieties selling at 13.9%, 17.5%, and 19.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). Cisco has a syrupy consistency and sweet taste; because of its color and bottle shape, it is frequently mistaken for a wine cooler. The Federal Trade Commission required the company to put labels on their bottles stating that Cisco is not a wine cooler, to change the shape and color of their containers, and to recall their advertising slogan "Takes you by surprise"[3]
  • MD 20/20 is an American fortified wine with an alcohol content of 13%. The name is derived from the initials of its producer, Mogen David, but the drink is widely and affectionately known as "Mad Dog". Originally, 20/20 stood for 20 ounces of 20% ABV, although the wine is no longer sold in either 20 ounce bottles or at 20% ABV. (The original "Red Grape Wine" flavor tops out at 18% ABV, though all other flavors are standardized at 13%.)[citation needed]
  • Night Train Express, usually abbreviated to Night Train, typically contains 17.5% ABV. Night Train Express has been condemned by some civic leaders who think inexpensive high alcohol content drinks contribute to vagrancy and public drunkenness.[4]
  • Richards Wild Irish Rose is an alcoholic beverage produced by Centerra Wine Company, which is part of the Constellation Brands organization. It was introduced in 1954 and currently[when?] sells about two million cases annually.[citation needed] The brand is available in 13.9% and 18% alcohol by volume.
  • Ripple was a fortified wine produced by E & J Gallo Winery[5] that was popular in the United States, particularly in the 1970s. Possessing a relatively low 11% ABV, it was originally marketed to "casual" drinkers.[6] It was also popular among young drinkers, both college students and those underage.
  • Scotsmac is a blend of wine and whisky sold in the UK. It typically retails for about £5.00 (per 700ml bottle), significantly cheaper than its rival, Buckfast Tonic Wine.
  • Solntsedar was a Soviet brand of cheap fortified wine, marketed as "port wine", infamous for many severe cases of poisoning. Its production was cancelled after Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol laws.[citation needed]
  • Stones Green Ginger Wine is a ginger-based wine, produced in the UK. It has an alcohol level of 13.7%.
  • Thunderbird, which on the label proclaims itself "The American Classic", is a mix of white port and lemon juice. Taken from the practice of liquor stores in predominately Black communities of selling lemons next to their white port bottles. Julio Gallo said, "“The problem with white port is it’s too sweet. What they’ve done is correct the sugar-acid balance by adding more acid.”[7] It is sold in 13% and 18% ABV varieties. It has been popular since the 1950s, at which time (as mentioned below) it was mentioned in a popular rhythm and blues lyric.[8] Thunderbird was once marketed in the United Kingdom as "The California Aperitif".
  • Thunderbird ESQ is a sister version of Thunderbird.


An early reference to the problem of cheap and poorly made wines is in the "Report on Cheap Wines" in the 5 November 1864 issue of The Medical Times and Gazette. The author, in prescribing inexpensive wines for a number of ills, cautions against the "fortified" wines of the day, describing of one sample that he had tried:

When the cork was drawn it was scarcely tinted, and was a very bad one – a thing of no good augury for the wine. There was no smell of port wine. The liquid, when tasted, gave the palate half-a-dozen sensations instead of one. There was a hot taste of spirits, a sweet taste, a fruity taste like damsons, and an unmistakable flavor of Roussillon [an alternative name in France for wine made from the grape Grenache]. It was a strong, unwholesome liquor, purchased very dearly.[9]

It is reported, however, that the popularity of cheap, fortified wines in the United States arose in the 1930s, as a product of Prohibition and the Great Depression:

Prohibition produced the Roaring Twenties and fostered more beer and distilled-spirit drinkers than wine drinkers, because the raw materials were easier to come by. But fortified wine, or medicinal wine tonic—containing about 20 percent alcohol, which made it more like a distilled spirit than regular wine—was still available and became America's number one wine. Thunderbird and Wild Irish Rose, to name two examples, are fortified wines. American wine was soon more popular for its effect than its taste; in fact, the word wino came into use during the Depression to describe those unfortunate souls who turned to fortified wine to forget their troubles.

Kevin Zraly, Kevin Zraly's American Wine Guide (2006) p. 38.

Concerns and media attention[edit]

While overtaken somewhat in the low-end alcoholic drink market by sweetened malt beverages in recent years, the appeal of cheap fortified wines to the poor and homeless has often raised concerns:

Community groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland have urged makers of fortified wines such as Wild Irish Rose and E & J Gallo's Thunderbird and Night Train brands to pull their products from the shelves of liquor retailers in skid row areas. In Nashville, Tennessee, one liquor store owner told Nashville Business Journal reporter Julie Hinds that police warned him to stop selling his biggest selling product, Wild Irish Rose, because it encouraged homeless people to linger in the area.

—Janice Jorgensen, Encyclopedia of Consumer Brands: Consumable Products (1993), p. 492.

In 2005, the Seattle City Council asked the Washington State Liquor Control Board to prohibit the sale of certain alcohol products in an impoverished "Alcohol Impact Area". Among the products sought to be banned were over two dozen beers, and six wines: Cisco, Gino's Premium Blend, MD 20/20, Night Train, Thunderbird, and Wild Irish Rose.[10] The Liquor Control Board approved these restrictions on 30 August 2006.[11] The cities of Tacoma, Washington and Spokane, Washington also followed suit in instituting "Alcohol Impact Areas" of their own following Seattle's example.[12][13]

In popular culture[edit]

Flavored fortified wines have appeared in numerous songs as well as other media forms.


Night Train made an appearance in The Blues Brothers (1980), wherein it caused Jake's head to hurt.[14] In the 1996 film 'Trainspotting,' the character Begby is seen drinking a bottle of Thunderbird on a bus.



Flavored fortified wine inspired the Guns N' Roses song "Nightrain", and ZZ Top (on Fandango!), Seasick Steve, (on I Started Out with Nothin and I Still Got Most of It Left), and They Might Be Giants (on The Spine) have all recorded songs titled "Thunderbird". The latter drink has been popular since the 1950s, at which time a popular rhythm and blues lyric went: "What's the word? Thunderbird / How's it sold? Good and cold / What's the jive? Bird's alive / What's the price? Thirty twice."[8] Additional songs in this vein include:

  • "Hard Times" (1971) by Baby Huey speaks of sleeping on motel floors and drinking Thunderbird.
  • The Beastie Boys song "Hold It Now, Hit It" (1986) mentions Thunderbird in the lyric, "Peter eater parking meter all of the time / If I run out of ale it's Thunderbird wine."
  • In a song named after it, Teenage Fanclub describes Mad Dog 20/20 as "the best girl I ever had."
  • Rock band Clutch mentions Thunderbird in their song "Worm Drink".
  • Songwriter Elliott Smith refers to MD 2020 wine in the instrumental song "Kiwi Maddog 20/20", on his album Roman Candle.[citation needed] He also mentioned Night Train in the lyrics of the song "See You Later".
  • The Detroit garage rock band The Gories had a song entitled "Thunderbird ESQ".
  • Gangster rapper Freddie Gibbs refers to Mad Dog 2020 in his song "Knicks" from his 2014 album Piñata.
  • The song "These Boots" by Eric Church mentions Wild Irish Rose.


  • The TV series Sanford & Son often referred to Ripple, as it was Fred Sanford's alcoholic beverage of choice.[15] Fred would also say he'd mix Ripple with ginger ale[16] and make "Champipple"
  • An SCTV sketch from the late 1970s had John Candy's character Johnny LaRue being served Thunderbird in a French restaurant, when he was unable to afford the more expensive French wines on the menu.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LCBO: Bright's Pale Dry Select Sherry". Product Search Page. LCBO. Retrieved Oct 14, 2013. 
  2. ^ Heald, Claire (26 September 2006). "BBC News Magazine – Binge drinking – the Benedictine connection". Retrieved 17 June 2010. 
  3. ^ "Canandaigua Wine Co. Agrees To Advertising, Packaging Changes". FTC. 
  4. ^ "AEP". Retrieved 28 January 2010. 
  5. ^ "E & J Gallo Winery". The Wine Lover's Companion. Epicurious. 
  6. ^ "55 Dead End Drinks". 
  7. ^ http://www.napavalley.edu/people/gvierra/Documents/Thunderbird.pdf
  8. ^ a b Brown, Adam (9 June 2009). "Nectar of the Broke: The World's 5 Worst Ways To Get Drunk". cracked.com. Retrieved 23 July 2010. 
  9. ^ "Report on Cheap Wines". The Medical Times and Gazette: 547. 5 November 1864. 
  10. ^ Hector Castro (7 December 2005). "City could soon widen alcohol impact areas". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. [dead link]
  11. ^ Alcohol Impact Area Information and Updates, City of Seattle website.
  12. ^ Tacoma Alcohol Impact Area Press Release
  13. ^ Spokane Alcohol Impact Area Press Release
  14. ^ "My Head Hurts..That Night Train's A Mean Wine". bluesbrotherscentral.com. 22 November 2006. Retrieved 7 September 2012. 
  15. ^ Jeff Elder (6 December 2004). "The bad wine that made a `ripple' in our culture.". the Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 10 October 2007. 
  16. ^ http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Champipple