Flavored fortified wine

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MD 20/20 bottles

Flavored fortified 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, and artificial flavor.


  • 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, East Kilbride, Hamilton, Coatbridge and other Strathclyde areas in Scotland, but critics have blamed it for being one cause of social problems in Scotland. Some have called it "Wreck the Hoose Juice".[1]
  • 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"[2]
  • MD 20/20 (often called by its nickname Mad Dog) is an American fortified wine. MD 20/20 has an alcohol content that varies by flavor from 13% to 18% (with most of the 18% varieties discontinued, although Red Grape is reportedly available in 18% ABV). The MD actually stands for its producer: Mogen David. Originally, 20/20 stood for 20 oz @ 20% alcohol. Currently, MD 20/20 is not sold in 20 oz bottles nor at 20% alcohol by volume.
  • 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 sells about 2 million cases annually. The brand is available in 13.9% and 18% alcohol by volume.
  • Solntsedar was a Soviet brand of low-end fortified wine, marketed as "port wine," infamous for many severe cases of poisoning. Its production was canceled after Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol laws.
  • Three popular brands in this category have been produced by the E & J Gallo Winery, and were a large part of that company's early success.
    • Ripple was a fortified wine produced by E & J Gallo Winery[3] that was popular in the United States, particularly in the 1970s. Possessing a low 11% ABV (lower than modern table wines), it was originally marketed to "casual" drinkers.[4] Due to its low price, it had a reputation as a drink for alcoholics and the destitute. It was popular among young drinkers, both underage and college students. It is no longer produced.
    • 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.[5]
    • Thunderbird (The American Classic), between 13% and 18% ABV. Popular since the 1950s, when a popular rhythm and blues song 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."[6] Once marketed in the United Kingdom as "The California Aperitif."


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.[7]

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 by the 1990s, 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.[8] The Liquor Control Board approved these restrictions on 30 August 2006.[9] The cities of Tacoma, Washington and Spokane, Washington also followed suit in instituting "Alcohol Impact Areas" of their own following Seattle's example.[10][11]

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.[12]
  • In Creepshow (1982), Stephen King's character "Jordy Verrill" can be seen drinking Ripple wine.
  • The 1994 feature film Forrest Gump featured a scene in which Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), is told by Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise) shortly after they meet for the first time after their military service, telling him to go get a bottle of Ripple.
  • In the 1996 film Trainspotting, the character Begbie is seen drinking a bottle of Thunderbird on a bus.
  • In the 1984 film Top Secret!, Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) is served "Ripple Blanc" in a fancy restaurant, which dissolves the wine glass shortly after being poured.



  • The TV series Sanford & Son often referred to Ripple, as it was Fred Sanford's alcoholic beverage of choice.[13] In different episodes, Fred said he would mix Ripple with champagne to make "Champipple", Ripple with creme de menthe to create a drink he called "Cripple", and Ripple with Manischewitz kosher wine to what he called "Manischipple" When served sangria for the first time, Fred remarked that it tasted like "Ripple that's gone flat. They should call it Flapple."
  • An SCTV sketch from the late 1970s featured John Candy's character Johnny LaRue being served Thunderbird in a French restaurant when he is unable to afford the more expensive French wines on the menu.


Flavored fortified wine inspired the Guns N' Roses song "Nightrain". 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."

Additional songs in this vein include:

  • "When the Word Was Thunderbird" (1976) by Billy Joe Shaver
  • The Detroit garage rock band The Gories had a song entitled "Thunderbird ESQ".
  • Townes Van Zandt sings a talking blues song reflecting on his experiences with Thunderbird entitled "Talking Thunderbird Blues".
  • Ian Dury's 1977 single "Sweet Gene Vincent" includes the lines "Shall I mourn your decline / With some Thunderbird wine / And a black handkerchief?"
  • Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat refers to "[...] drinking someone else's strawberry tonic wine..." in the band's 1996 debut single "The First Big Weekend".
  • The last track on Elliott Smith's first (1994) album is entitled "Kiwi Maddog 20/20 (Version 2 of 2)". Night Train is mentioned in the lyrics to "See You Later".
  • Mickey Newbury's song "Why You Been Gone So Long" contains the lyrics: "Ain't nothin' I wanna do Lord I guess I could get stoned / Let the past paint pictures in my head / Kill a fifth of Thunderbird and try to write a sad song / Tell me baby now why you been gone so long". The song has been widely covered, with David Allan Coe altering the lyrics to "Kill a fifth of Thunderbird and smoke my way back home"
  • "Lightning Bar Blues" is the ninth track on Hoyt Axton's 1971 album Joy to the World. The song centers around drinking "Ripple Wine" as in the chorus "I don't need no diamond ring, I don't need no Cadillac car, Just want to drink my Ripple Wine down in the Lightnin' Bar." "Lightning Bar Blues" was covered by several artists, most notably Arlo Guthrie on the album Hobo's Lullaby.
  • "Notorious Thugs", the 13th track on The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1997 album Life After Death, features Krayzie Bone from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony rapping "to the dome with a shot of 'bird; never get tossed to the curb".
  • St. Louis musician Smino released a song titled, "Wild Irish Roses" on his album Blkswn, in 2017.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Heald, Claire (26 September 2006). "BBC News Magazine – Binge drinking – the Benedictine connection". Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  2. ^ "Canandaigua Wine Co. Agrees To Advertising, Packaging Changes". FTC. Archived from the original on October 18, 2007.
  3. ^ "E & J Gallo Winery". The Wine Lover's Companion. Epicurious.
  4. ^ Modern Drunkard Magazine
  5. ^ "AEP". Archived from the original on June 18, 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  6. ^ Adam Brown, "Nectar of the Broke: The World's 5 Worst Ways To Get Drunk" (cracked.com, June 9, 2009, accessed July 23, 2010
  7. ^ "Report on Cheap Wines". The Medical Times and Gazette. London, J. & A. Churchill: 547. 5 November 1864.
  8. ^ Hector Castro (7 December 2005). "City could soon widen alcohol impact areas". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.[dead link]
  9. ^ Alcohol Impact Area Information and Updates Archived 2013-10-12 at the Wayback Machine., City of Seattle website.
  10. ^ "Tacoma Alcohol Impact Area Press Release". Archived from the original on 2012-03-20.
  11. ^ "Spokane Alcohol Impact Area Press Release". Archived from the original on 2012-03-20.
  12. ^ "My Head Hurts..That Night Train's A Mean Wine". bluesbrotherscentral.com. 22 November 2006. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  13. ^ Jeff Elder (6 December 2004). "The bad wine that made a `ripple' in our culture". the Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 10 October 2007.