Vin Mariani, the 19th-Century Cocaine-Infused Wine, Imbibed and Endorsed by Presidents, Popes & Writers

In the nev­erend­ing quest to ele­vate them­selves above the fray, today’s mixol­o­gists — for­mer­ly known as bar­tenders — are putting a mod­ern spin on obscure cock­tail recipes, and res­ur­rect­ing anachro­nis­tic spir­its like mahia, Char­treuse, Usque­baugh, and absinthe.

Might we see a return of Vin Mar­i­ani, a Belle Époque ‘ton­ic wine’ that was hit with such august per­son­ages as Queen Vic­to­ria, Ulysses S. Grant, Alexan­der Dumas and Emile Zola?

Prob­a­bly not.

It’s got coca in it, known for its psy­choac­tive alka­loid, cocaine.

Cor­si­can chemist Ange­lo Mar­i­ani came up with the restora­tive bev­er­age, for­mal­ly known as Vin Tonique Mar­i­ani à la Coca de Per­oum, in 1863, inspired by physi­cian and anthro­pol­o­gist Pao­lo Man­tegaz­za who served as his own guinea pig after observ­ing native use of coca leaves while on a trip to South Amer­i­ca:

I sneered at the poor mor­tals con­demned to live in this val­ley of tears while I, car­ried on the wings of two leaves of coca, went fly­ing through the spaces of 77,438 words, each more splen­did than the one before…An hour lat­er, I was suf­fi­cient­ly calm to write these words in a steady hand: God is unjust because he made man inca­pable of sus­tain­ing the effect of coca all life long. I would rather have a life span of ten years with coca than one of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 000 cen­turies with­out coca.

Mar­i­ani iden­ti­fied an untapped oppor­tu­ni­ty and added ground coca leaves to Bor­deaux, at a ratio of 6 mil­ligrams of coca to one ounce of wine.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the result­ing con­coc­tion not only took the edge off, it was accord­ed a num­ber of health­ful ben­e­fits in an age where gen­er­al cure-alls were high­ly prized.

The rec­om­mend­ed dosage for adults was two or three glass­es a day, before or after meals. For kids, the amount could be divid­ed in two.

Reign­ing mas­ters of graph­ic design were enlist­ed to pro­mote the mir­a­cle elixir.

Jules Chéret leaned into its ener­gy boost­ing effects by depict­ing a come­ly young woman clad in skimpy, sheer yel­low replen­ish­ing her glass mid-leap, while Alphonse Mucha went dark, claim­ing that “the mum­mies them­selves stand up and walk after drink­ing Vin Mar­i­ani.”

While we’re on the sub­ject of corpse revivers, 21st-cen­tu­ry mixol­o­gists will please note that a cock­tail of Vin Mar­i­ani, ver­mouth and bit­ters, served with a twist, was a par­tic­u­lar­ly pop­u­lar prepa­ra­tion, espe­cial­ly across the Atlantic, where Vin Mar­i­ani was export­ed in a more potent ver­sion con­tain­ing 7.2 mil­ligrams of coca.

Ange­lo Mariani’s inno­va­tions were not lim­it­ed to the chem­istry of alco­holic com­pounds.

He was also a mar­ket­ing genius, who cur­ried celebri­ty favor by send­ing a com­pli­men­ta­ry case of Vin Mar­i­ani to dozens of famous names, along with a hum­ble request for an endorse­ment and pho­to, should the con­tents prove pleas­ing.

These acco­lades were col­lect­ed and repur­posed as adver­tise­ments that assured ador­ing fans and fol­low­ers of the product’s qual­i­ty.

Sarah Bern­hardt con­ferred super­star sta­tus on the drink, and not so sub­tly shored up her own, grand­ly pro­nounc­ing the blend the “King of Ton­ics, Ton­ic of Kings:”

I have been delight­ed to find Vin Mar­i­ani in all the large cities of the Unit­ed States, and it has, as always, large­ly helped to give me that strength so nec­es­sary in the per­for­mance of the ardu­ous duties which I have imposed upon myself. I nev­er fail to praise its virtues to all my friends and I hearti­ly con­grat­u­late upon the suc­cess which you so well deserve. 

Pope Leo XIII not only car­ried “a per­son­al hip flask” of the stuff to “for­ti­fy him­self in those moments when prayer was insuf­fi­cient,” he invent­ed and award­ed a Vat­i­can gold medal to Vin Mar­i­ani “in recog­ni­tion of ben­e­fits received.”

Mar­i­ani even­tu­al­ly pack­aged the glow­ing endorse­ments he’d been squir­rel­ing away as Por­traits from Album Mar­i­ani. It’s a com­pendi­um of famous artists, writ­ers, actors, and musi­cians of the day, some remem­bered, most­ly not…

Com­pos­er John Philip Sousa:

When worn out after a long rehearsal or a per­for­mance, I find noth­ing so help­ful as a glass of Vin Mar­i­ani. To brain work­ers and those who expend a great deal of ner­vous force, it is invalu­able.

Opera singer Lil­lian Blau­velt:

Vin Mar­i­ani is the great­est of all ton­ic stim­u­lants for the voice and sys­tem. Dur­ing my pro­fes­sion­al career, I have nev­er been with­out it.

Illus­tra­tor Albert Robi­da:

At last! At last! It has been dis­cov­ered — they hold it, that cel­e­brat­ed microbe so long sought after — the microbe of microbes that kills all oth­er microbes. It is the great, the won­der­ful, the incom­pa­ra­ble microbe of health! It is, it is Vin Mar­i­ani!

(We sus­pect Robi­da penned his entry after swal­low­ing more than a few glass­es… or he was of a mis­chie­vous nature and would’ve fit right in with the Sur­re­al­ists, the Futur­ists, Fluxus, or any oth­er move­ment that jabbed at the bour­geoisie with hyper­bole and humor.

Mar­i­ani used the album to pub­lish the Philadel­phia Med­ical Times’ defense of celebri­ty endorse­ments:

The array of notable names is a strong one. Too strong in stand­ing, as well as in num­bers, to allow of the charge of inter­est­ed motives.

Mar­i­ani also includ­ed an excerpt from the New York Med­ical Jour­nal, denounc­ing the unscrupu­lous man­u­fac­tur­ers of “rival prepa­ra­tions of coca” who pirat­ed Vin Mariani’s glow­ing reviews, “crafti­ly mak­ing those records appear to apply to their own prepa­ra­tions.”

Else­where in the album, med­ical author­i­ties tout Vin Mariani’s suc­cess in com­bat­ting such mal­adies as headaches, heart strain, brain exhaus­tion, spasms, la grippe, laryn­geal afflic­tions, influen­za, inor­di­nate irri­tabil­i­ty and wor­ry.

They fail to men­tion that it could get you much high­er than vins ordi­naires, defined, for pur­pos­es of this post, as “wines lack­ing in coca.”

The psy­choac­tive prop­er­ties of coca def­i­nite­ly received a boost from the alco­hol, a col­li­sion that gave rise to a third chem­i­cal com­pound, cocaeth­yl­ene, a long-last­ing intox­i­cant that pro­duces intense eupho­ria, along with a height­ened risk of car­diotox­i­c­i­ty and sud­den death.

…some dead celebri­ties could like­ly tell us a thing or two about it.

Mariani’s for­tunes began to turn ear­ly in the 20th cen­tu­ry, owing to the Pure Food and Drug Act, the grow­ing tem­per­ance move­ment, and increased pub­lic aware­ness of the dan­gers of cocaine.

We may nev­er see a Vin Mar­i­ani cock­tail on the menu at Death & Co, Licor­ería Liman­tour, or Par­adiso, but the Drug Enforce­ment Administration’s Muse­um keeps a bot­tle on hand.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Coca-Cola Was Orig­i­nal­ly Sold as an Intel­lec­tu­al Stim­u­lant & Med­i­cine: The Unlike­ly Sto­ry of the Icon­ic Soft Drink’s Inven­tion

How a Young Sig­mund Freud Researched & Got Addict­ed to Cocaine, the New “Mir­a­cle Drug,” in 1894

The Cof­fee Pot That Fueled Hon­oré de Balzac’s Cof­fee Addic­tion

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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