Flavored fortified wines

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MD 20/20 bottles

Flavored fortified wines (sometimes called bum wines or twist-cap 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, artificial color, and artificial flavor.


Constellation brands produced multiple brands of flavored fortified wines (Bright's Pale Dry Select Sherry, Cisco, and Richards Wild Irish Rose), as did the E & J Gallo Winery, whose three popular brands of fortified wines played a large part of that company's early success[citation needed] (Night Train Express, Ripple, and Thunderbird). Each of these brands, and their competitors, are detailed below.


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.[8]

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.[9] The Liquor Control Board approved these restrictions on 30 August 2006.[10] The cities of Tacoma, Washington and Spokane, Washington also followed suit in instituting "Alcohol Impact Areas" of their own following Seattle's example.[11][12]

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.[13]



Flavored fortified wine inspired the Guns N' Roses song "Nightrain", and ZZ Top (on Fandango!), Seasick Steve,[citation needed] and They Might Be Giants[citation needed] 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."[7] Additional songs in this vein include:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LCBO: Bright's Pale Dry Select Sherry". Product Search Page. LCBO. Retrieved Oct 14, 2013. 
  2. ^ Heald, Claire (26 September 2006). "BBC News Magazine – Binge drinking – the Benedictine connection". Retrieved 17 June 2010. 
  3. ^ "Canandaigua Wine Co. Agrees To Advertising, Packaging Changes". FTC. 
  4. ^ "AEP". Retrieved 28 January 2010. 
  5. ^ "E & J Gallo Winery". The Wine Lover's Companion. Epicurious. 
  6. ^ "55 Dead End Drinks". 
  7. ^ a b Brown, Adam (9 June 2009). "Nectar of the Broke: The World's 5 Worst Ways To Get Drunk". cracked.com. Retrieved 23 July 2010. 
  8. ^ "Report on Cheap Wines". The Medical Times and Gazette: 547. 5 November 1864. 
  9. ^ Hector Castro (7 December 2005). "City could soon widen alcohol impact areas". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. [dead link]
  10. ^ Alcohol Impact Area Information and Updates, City of Seattle website.
  11. ^ Tacoma Alcohol Impact Area Press Release
  12. ^ Spokane Alcohol Impact Area Press Release
  13. ^ "My Head Hurts..That Night Train's A Mean Wine". bluesbrotherscentral.com. 22 November 2006. Retrieved 7 September 2012. 
  14. ^ Jeff Elder (6 December 2004). "The bad wine that made a `ripple' in our culture.". the Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 10 October 2007.