We tend to think of Coca-Cola as the all-american drink but actually, in a roundabout way, the French may lay claim to having had a hand in its invention. It all started when, in around 1863, Corsican chemist Angelo Mariani invented his ‘Vin Mariani, French Tonic Wine’, a brilliant concoction of Bordeaux wine and coca leaves. This alco/cocaine mash-up, cleverly marketed for its health-giving benefits, proved to be extremely popular, winning many endorsements from the great and the good of its day…
Due to its soar-away success, copycat products followed and one of these, produced by American chemist John Pemberton, eventually morphed into coca-cola, once cocaine and alcohol had become controlled substances. Vin Mariani itself continued to be sold in France, in a less potent form, until the early 1960’s.
But tonic wines, in other forms, are still going strong today. One such is ‘Byrhh Vin Tonique’ (even though they don’t seem update their sinage that often!)…
Byrhh is apparently wine mixed with quinine and other herbs and was originally sold in chemists as a ‘health’ drink to differentiate it from other aperitifs on sale. It was quite popular in the early 20th century, even being exported to the UK and US, despite, or perhaps because, its name sounds a bit like ‘beer’.
I vaguely remember my Nan keeping a dusty bottle of ‘Sanatogen Tonic Wine’ in the cupboard, presumably just in case she ever ran out of her brutally alcoholic home-made Mangle Wine. And of course, there’s vin tonique’s less savoury, anglicized cousin, Buckfast, known affectionately north of the border as ‘Wreck the Hoose Juice’.
And maybe we haven’t seen the last of Vin Mariani, as during my non-extensive research I stumbled across this company who claim:
“Tea is not the only coca-based product Grupo Mariani will be producing”, says Martínez. We are only weeks away from the debut of our exceptional Vin Mariani red coca wine, which is being produced from grapes of the highly acclaimed Ica region in Peru. We also have plans on launching a line of hair products, soaps and even food products, such as cookies. with other products to come later.
As a benefit to the Peruvian people, especially the coca farmers, Grupo Mariani is forming strategic alliances with the current government of Peru to provide humanitarian projects for the indigenous people of that country.
VP – Sales and Marketing
Grupo Mariani S.A.
I’m tempted to try a little glass of it, just the one, mind, for research purposes.