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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Greatest Drink Ever
Who the heck was Angelo Marian?
I had no idea who this French pharmacist was until recently, when a SPAM email led me to discover some
interesting things. I opened an email that advertised a Peruvian company offering "amazing" wine at a
discount...I think it's clear that after the cannabis wine I could not miss this... coca!
I wanted to know more. How could they market this wine so quietly and have enough turnover to stay in
business? Clicking on the wikipedia link, I was confronted with this face:
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dr. Angelo Mariani, the French chemist and pharmacist who,
in the mid-nineteenth century, became a legend throughout Europe for inventing a revolutionary drink.
What was it? Vin Tonique Mariani, a red wine made from Bordeaux and macerated cocaine leaf.
Specifically, it is prepared by soaking 60 grams of the "best coca leaves" for 10 hours in a liter of "fine
Bordeaux". The drink could contain between 150 and 300 mg per liter of cocaine so a glass would contain
about 25-50 mg.
Monza‘s Dr. Paolo Mantegazza, a prominent physician, anthropologist, and scientist of the time,
inspired Mariani. In 1859, Mantegazza published an essay entitled, "On the Hygienic and Medicinal
Virtues of Food with Coca for the Nervous System". The Lombard scientist had seen, and personally
experienced, the extensive use of coca leaves by the natives during a long stay in Peru. He described the effects of "the magical plant of the Incas," with a positive enthusiasm.
He wasn’t alone - many doctors and scientists of the time were supporting the use of coca for
therapeutic purposes, particularly for the treatment of mental illness.
Mariani wine was so successful that it quickly became the most popular drink in Europe. Among
those who enjoyed the wine were kings, queens, tsars, and celebrities such as Thomas A. Edison and
Emile Zola. Zola wrote: " J'ai à vous adresser mille remerciements, cher Monsieur Mariani, pour
ce vin de jeunesse qui fait de la vie, conserve la force à ceux qui la dépensent et la rend à ceux qui ne l'ont plus."
“I am sending you a thousand thanks, Mr. Mariani, for this wine of youth stimulates vitality, returns
strength to those who have lost it, and gives more to those who still have it.”
Even Pope Leo XIII was enthusiastic about the wine, at the time viewed as a medicine, and granted
Mariani the honor of using his face for advertisements such as this poster:
Mariani's success was such that he was able to expand his business from his headquarters in Paris
to branches in London and New York. His competitors tried to create imitations of his product, but
they failed to unseat him from his throne, thanks in part to a genius marketing strategy: The French
pharmacist began publishing the letters of thanks that he had received from famous clients in a
book called "Album Mariani". The book featured postcards and portraits. Over 65 million copies were
printed in the span of about 20 years!
Not only that, on June 29
1892, Mariani was featured in a pantomime in Paris titled,
"La Fleur de Coca". Here is the reproduced paperback, published for advertising purposes
by Mariani through his friend Silvestre's printing house: Genius!
Characters: Columbine and Pierrot
Pierrot is so inspired that he has attached himself directly to the bottle of Vin Mariani
Unfortunately, all stories of success have an end. Mariani wine was banned in Italy in the early
twentieth century. In France, where the head office was located, the recipe remained legal up until
1910. The heirs of the Mariani family decided to replace the drink in the 1930s with a new one called
"Mariani Tonic", which remained on sale in pharmacies until 1963.
Legend has it that Mariani wine also inspired the doctor and pharmacist John Stith Pemberton to create
the legendary Coca Cola in Atlanta in 1886. His beverage officially contained cocaine until 1906, but
trace amounts were found in the drink as late as 1929.
Of course today coca wine is theoretically outlawed, but you can still purchase it from phantom
companies such as the Vin Mariani Winery or the Peruvian Andante, whose spam email was the
inspiration for this post.
There is also an internet forum trying to organize support and promote a campaign for the
legalization of Mariani wine. Too bad it hasn't had the same success as the drink it supports...
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