Flavored fortified wines

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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 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".[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][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.[3][citation needed]


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.[4]

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.[5] The Liquor Control Board approved these restrictions on 30 August 2006.[6] The cities of Tacoma, Washington and Spokane, Washington also followed suit in instituting "Alcohol Impact Areas" of their own following Seattle's example.[7][8]

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.[9] In the 1996 film Trainspotting, the character Begbie 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." 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 the song "Last Cigarette" by Dramarama there is a lyric that includes Thunderbrd. "I throw him a dollar, that's exactly what he needs to get another jug of Thunderbird and naturally ask me for a Last cigarette..."
  • Rock band Clutch mentions Thunderbird in their song "Worm Drink".
  • The Detroit garage rock band The Gories had a song entitled "Thunderbird ESQ".
  • In the song "Reeko" by NOFX references Cisco in the line "The Cisco was emptied in to the aquarium, The fish all seem to float"
  • "Roller Derby Queen" (1973) by Jim Croce Talks about Ripple Wine that has never seen a grape, made by DuPont. (VTN Concert 1973)
  • In a song named after it, Teenage Fanclub describes Mad Dog 20/20 as "the best girl I ever had."
  • 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 song "whatcha got in that cup" by Thomas Rhett mentions Mad Dog wine
  • The song "Nightrain" by Guns N' Roses is dedicated to Night Train Express
  • The song "Wild Irish Rose" by George Jones mentions Wild Irish Rose.


  • The TV series Sanford & Son often referred to Ripple, as it was Fred Sanford's alcoholic beverage of choice.[10] Fred would also say he'd mix Ripple with champagne 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.
  • In his 1996 King of the Ring acceptance speech, Stone Cold Steve Austin mentions "a cheap bottle of Thunderbird" to mock his losing opponent, Jake "The Snake" Roberts', struggles with alcoholism.

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. [dead link]
  3. ^ "AEP". Retrieved 28 January 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Report on Cheap Wines". The Medical Times and Gazette: 547. 5 November 1864. 
  5. ^ Hector Castro (7 December 2005). "City could soon widen alcohol impact areas". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. [dead link]
  6. ^ Alcohol Impact Area Information and Updates, City of Seattle website.
  7. ^ Tacoma Alcohol Impact Area Press Release
  8. ^ Spokane Alcohol Impact Area Press Release
  9. ^ "My Head Hurts..That Night Train's A Mean Wine". bluesbrotherscentral.com. 22 November 2006. Retrieved 7 September 2012. 
  10. ^ Jeff Elder (6 December 2004). "The bad wine that made a `ripple' in our culture.". the Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 10 October 2007.