Flavored fortified wine

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MD 20/20 bottles

A flavored fortified wine is an inexpensive fortified wine that typically has an alcohol content of between 1% and 50% alcohol by volume (ABV). It is 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 two million cases annually. The brand is available in 13.9% and 18% alcohol by volume.
  • Scotsmac is a blend of wine and whisky sold in the UK. It typically retails for about £3.50, significantly cheaper than its rival, Buckfast.
  • 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." There is a now a sister version, Thunderbird ESQ. It is the subject of the Seasick Steve song 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.[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.


  • In 1974 Martin Scorsese's film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the teenager played by Jodie Foster asks the young Tommy: "You wanna get high on Ripple?".
  • 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 the wheelchair-bound 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. Numerous bottles of Buckfast wine feature as props in the background throughout the film.



Northern Irish Oi/punk band 'Runnin' Riot' have a song entitled "Buckfast Tonic Wine" with lyrics such as, "God bless the crazy monks, who keep the water flowing." 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:

  • Texas band The Nightcaps (Jimmie Vaughan was an associate and later member) pressed a number of singles including "Thunderbird" and "Wine Wine Wine".
  • Norman Petty discoveries The Fireballs (Sugar Shack) scored a minor 1967 hit with "Bottle Of Wine"
  • Rapper Kool G Rap mentions Night Train in the song "Streets of New York".
  • "When the Word Was Thunderbird" (1976) by Billy Joe Shaver.
  • "Wild Irish Rose" (1981) by George Jones "He sits there holding his wild Irish rose, a song about war veterans/PTSD.
  • "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 single "Sweet Gene Vincent" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads mentions Thunderbird in the lyric, "Shall I mourn your decline with some Thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief."[13]
  • The song "You Know Me" by Robbie Williams from the album Reality Killed The Video Star mentions Thunderbird wine in the lyric, "bruised up my mind with this Thunderbird wine". Thunderbird wine is also named in the lyrics of the Ian Dury and the Blockheads song "Sweet Gene Vincent", which Williams sang on the Dury tribute album Brand New Boots And Panties.
  • The song "Three Rings" by Insane Clown Posse also mentions Thunderbird.
  • 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".
  • 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."
  • Songwriter Elliott Smith refers to MD 20/20 wine in the instrumental song "Kiwi Maddog 20/20", on his album Roman Candle. He also mentioned Night Train in the lyrics of the song "See You Later".
  • Pirate-metal band Alestorm includes a song entitled "Buckfast Powersmash" on their third LP, referencing Buckfast Tonic Wine.
  • Gangster rapper Freddie Gibbs refers to Mad Dog 20/20 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.
  • In her song 2004, "The Beer", Kimya Dawson refers to drinking Mad Dog and Night Train.
  • The song "Mean Man" by W.A.S.P. features the lyrics "Mad Dog 20/20's king, I drink that stuff and start getting obscene."


  • The TV series Sanford & Son often referred to Ripple, as it was Fred Sanford's alcoholic beverage of choice.[14] Fred would also say he would mix Ripple with champagne and make "Champipple". In one episode, Fred stated that he had created a new mixed drink, a combination of creme de menthe and Ripple, that he had named "Cripple."
  • An SCTV sketch from the late 1970s features 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.
  • In a 1994 episode of the American comedy series Frasier, Frasier Crane - a connoisseur of high quality, expensive French wines - sarcastically quips that Ripple would be his wine of choice if stranded on a desert island.
  • In his 1996 King of the Ring acceptance speech, Stone Cold Steve Austin mentions "a cheap bottle of Thunderbird" to mock the alcoholism of his defeated opponent, Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

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: 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, City of Seattle website.
  10. ^ Tacoma Alcohol Impact Area Press Release Archived March 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Spokane Alcohol Impact Area Press Release Archived March 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ "My Head Hurts..That Night Train's A Mean Wine". bluesbrotherscentral.com. 22 November 2006. Retrieved 7 September 2012. 
  13. ^ "Sweet Gene Vincent". Ian Dury and the Blockheads. 
  14. ^ Jeff Elder (6 December 2004). "The bad wine that made a `ripple' in our culture.". the Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 10 October 2007.