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, fruit, and citrus, with added sugar, artificial flavor and artificial color.


  • Buckfast Tonic Wine is a tonic wine with added alcohol, caffeine and sugar, 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 a cause of social problems in Scotland. Some have called it "Wreck the Hoose Juice".[1] It also enjoys a strong popularity and near cult-following in Northern Ireland, often referred to simply as "Buckie" and in some cases "Lurgan Champagne".
  • MD 20/20 (often called by its nickname Mad Dog[2]) is an American fortified wine. The MD actually stands for its producer: Mogen David. MD 20/20 has an alcohol content that varies by flavor from 13% to 18%. Originally, 20/20 stood for 20 oz at 20% alcohol. Currently, MD 20/20 is not sold in 20 oz bottles nor at 20% alcohol by volume.
  • Solntsedar (Russian: Солнцедар, named after a town on the Black Sea where it was produced) was a Soviet brand of low-end fortified wine produced using ingredients sourced from Algeria. It was marketed as "port wine" and infamous for many severe cases of alcohol poisoning and for inducing vomiting.[3] Its production was canceled after Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol laws came into effect.
  • Wild Russian Vanya was a fortified fruit wine vinted and bottled by the Seabord Beverage Co[4] and sold in the American southeastern states (such as Georgia and Florida) during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was referred to in commercials as WILD RUSSIAN VANYA, WHAT A WINE, and featured various flavors similar to competitor brand MD 20/20. It had 20% alcohol by volume. Advertising implied the wine was a Russian import but it was produced in the US. It went out of production in the late 1970s.
  • Two notable brands are produced by the Centerra Wine Company (a division of Constellation Brands).
    • Cisco is a fortified wine with varieties selling at 13.9%, 17.5%, and 19.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). It has a syrupy consistency and sweet taste; because of its original color and bottle shape, it was frequently mistaken for a wine cooler. The Federal Trade Commission eventually 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".[5]
    • Richards Wild Irish Rose was introduced in 1954 and at its height sold about two million cases annually. The brand is available in 13.9% and 18% alcohol by volume and comes in both "red" and "white" varieties. The red is described as tasting like "cheap cherry hard candy" and the white like "crunchy milk and fake vanilla".[6]
  • 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 and carbonated wine[7] that was popular in the United States, particularly in the 1970s (and made famous by Fred G. Sanford of Sanford and Son). Possessing a low 11% ABV (lower than modern table wines), it was originally marketed to "casual" drinkers.[8] Due to its low price, it gained a negative reputation as a drink for destitute alcoholics. It was popular among young drinkers, both underage and college students, due to its low price. It was later replaced with Boone's Farm.[9]
    • 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.[10] A full bottle was consumed by Joliet Jake in The Blues Brothers, after which he holds his head and refers to it as a "mean wine". The song "Nightrain" by rock band Guns N' Roses also pays tribute to this spirit.
    • Thunderbird (The American Classic), a flavored, fortified wine of 13–18% ABV. Ernest Gallo ordered development of the wine upon discovering that inexpensive white port wine was popular in inner city and skid row neighborhoods, where shopkeepers would display lemon juice bottles and Kool-Aid packets next to the wine, which patrons would purchase to mix with the port and produce their desired flavor. A 1957 radio jingle proclaimed: "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." (i.e. 60 cents, at a time when the federal minimum wage was $1 per hour.)[9] Gallo salesmen supposedly dropped empty Thunderbird bottles in the streets of skid-row neighborhoods to build brand awareness among city "wino" populations.[9] The wine became so popular among the indigent that Gallo recounted a story in which he encountered a wino drinking on a sidewalk in Atlanta and upon asking him "What's the word?", the man shouted "Thunderbird!" after which both laughed.[9] Another salesman told of giving free samples to alcoholics and newly-released prisoners.[11]


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.[12]

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.[13] The Liquor Control Board approved these restrictions on 30 August 2006.[14] The cities of Tacoma, Washington, and Spokane, Washington, also followed suit in instituting "Alcohol Impact Areas" of their own following Seattle's example.[15][16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Heald, Claire (26 September 2006). "BBC News Magazine – Binge drinking – the Benedictine connection". Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  2. ^ staff (January 23, 2018). "Viral picture shows shocking fact you (probably) didn't know about MD 20/20". scotsman.com. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  3. ^ Jargin, Sergei V. (September–October 2015). "Vodka vs. Fortified Wine in Russia: Retrospective View". Alcohol and Alcoholism. 50 (5): 624–625. doi:10.1093/alcalc/agv034. PMC 3307043. PMID 22330211.
  4. ^ Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office. September 10, 1963. p. TM 88.
  5. ^ "Canandaigua Wine Co. Agrees To Advertising, Packaging Changes". FTC. Archived from the original on October 18, 2007.
  6. ^ Gordon, Will. "Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Richards Wild Irish Rose". seriouseats.com. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  7. ^ "E & J Gallo Winery". The Wine Lover's Companion. Epicurious. Archived from the original on 2007-06-10.
  8. ^ Rich, Frank Kelly. "Dead End Drinks | Modern Drunkard Magazine".
  9. ^ a b c d Dent, Bryan. "What's the Word? Thunderbird! The strange and unnatural history of America's favorite wine". Modern Drunkard Magazine. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  10. ^ "AEP". Archived from the original on June 18, 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  11. ^ "Bunny and Coco Get Smashed". Bunny Ultramod – via Google Books.
  12. ^ "Report on Cheap Wines". The Medical Times and Gazette. London, J. & A. Churchill: 547. 5 November 1864.
  13. ^ Hector Castro (7 December 2005). "City could soon widen alcohol impact areas". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.[dead link]
  14. ^ Alcohol Impact Area Information and Updates Archived 2013-10-12 at the Wayback Machine, City of Seattle website.
  15. ^ "Tacoma Alcohol Impact Area Press Release". Archived from the original on 2012-03-20.
  16. ^ "Spokane Alcohol Impact Area Press Release". Archived from the original on 2012-03-20.