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] 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".
  • 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 at 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.
  • 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.
  • Wild Russian Vanya was vinted and bottled in Georgia and sold during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was referred to in commercials as WILD RUSSIAN VANYA, WHAT A WINE, it was a fortified wine with about 20% alcohol by volume. Attempts were made to make people think it was a Russian import but it was not; this yellow peach-flavored wine was a favorite for some years among the street winos and tramps and a few college students. It went out of production in the late 1970s, being outcompeted by Thunderbird, Night Train, and Wild Irish Rose.
  • 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 (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.[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] It was 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]

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.