Thunderbird wine is back, and badder than ever. But now in the good “bad” sense.
E. & J. Gallo Winery’s Thunderbird wine, once know for its low price tag and high alcohol content, has been reborn and rebranded. Folks at downtown Modesto’s Mod Shop late last month were treated to a pop-up tasting event where the brand was introduced — or more accurately reintroduced — locally.
The new Thunderbird comes in sleek black bottles with the brand’s original bird logo. But instead of its citrusy flavor of yore, the wine now comes in three varietals: chardonnay, red blend and cabernet sauvignon. The pop-up event — complete with motorcycles and vintage records on display — conveyed a hip, young, rock ‘n’ roll vibe. Tasting flights of the three wines were paired with bread, cheese and other snacks passed out by servers dressed in all black.
“We have always felt there was something powerful about the Thunderbird logo; it is bold, disruptive, and hardworking,” said Leon Susen, senior director of marketing for E.&J. Gallo Winery. “It serves as inspiration for the future of the brand. We want to create wines with strength of character.”
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First debuted by Gallo in 1957, Thunderbird was known for its striking yellow color and intoxicating effects. The formerly fortified beverage (initially containing a whopping alcohol content of about 20 percent, which later was lowered to about 17.5 percent) was a mix of wine and citrus flavoring. The company sold 19,000 cases the first month it was introduced in Los Angeles.
In the autobiography “Ernest & Julio Our Story,” Ernest Gallo wrote, “I had never seen a product that went from nothing to almost full growth in thirty days.”
The brand inspired an ubiquitous jingle as well that went, “What’s the word? Thunderbird! How’s it sold? Good and cold!” But after its initial popularity and novelty, it became grouped with other cheaper fortified wine like MD 20/20 and Wild Irish Rose.
Gallo has since discontinued the old Thunderbird. The brand’s association with other brown-bag alcoholic drinks made it lose its luster. Sales had also dwindled in the late 90s and early 2000s from its boom days.
But recently Gallo relaunched Thunderbird, pairing it with music partners in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The revamped brand is working with half a dozen bands and musicians to sponsor and present their shows.
The new and improved Thunderbird has yet to hit store shelves nationally. It is available for purchase online through Gallo’s The Barrel Room and retails for $9.99 a bottle — which is definitely a step up from its “three bits twice” price heralded in its old song.
In addition to its signature Thunderbird logo, the label proudly states “Est. 1957” and “Modesto, CA.” The back of the bottle reads in part: “The American Classic. Our aim at Thunderbird is to make big, expressive wines that have a distinct point of view.”
Expect Thunderbird to expand to more markets in the new year. Gallo plans to keep partnering with musicians as a way to help reintroduce the wine. The company is also adding a zinfandel to their lineup.
An in-house tasting at The Bee found the wines to be entirely drinkable, particularly the pleasant chardonnay. And while it doesn’t pack the wallop of the old Thunderbird, the new Thunderbird still boasts a healthy 14.5 percent alcohol content.