Vin Mariani (French: Mariani’s wine) was a tonic created circa 1863 by Angelo Mariani, a chemist who became intrigued with coca and its economic potential after reading Paolo Mantegazza’s paper on coca’s effects. In 1863 Mariani started marketing a wine called Vin Mariani which was made from Bordeaux wine treated with coca leaves. The ethanol in the wine acted as a solvent and extracted the coca from the coca leaves, altering the drink’s effect. It originally contained 6 mg of coca per fluid ounce of wine, but Vin Mariani which was to be exported contained 7.2 mg per ounce in order to compete with the higher coca content of similar drinks in the United States.
This tonic was copied by John S. Pemberton in 1884, originally as a cocawine called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. In 1885, when Atlanta and Fulton County passed Prohibition legislation, Pemberton responded by developing Coca-Cola, essentially a carbonated, non-alcoholic version of Mariani’s wine with the addition of cola. The beverage was named Coca-Cola because originally, the stimulant mixed in the beverage was coca leaves from South America. In addition, the drink was flavored using kola nuts, the beverage’s source of caffeine. Therefore, Angelo Mariani is sometimes thought of as the “grandfather of Coca-Cola.”
When coca is administered on its own it yields two key active compounds, benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester. When combined with alcohol, as in Vin Mariani, the mixture forms a powerful psychoactive: cocaethylene (which is both more euphorigenic and has higher cardiovascular toxicity than coca by itself).
Pope Leo XIII purportedly carried a hipflask of Vin Mariani with him, and awarded a Vatican gold medal to Angelo Mariani.
Vin Mariani was very popular in its day, even among royalty such as Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland. Pope Leo XIII and later Pope Saint Pius X were both Vin Mariani drinkers. Pope Leo awarded a Vatican gold medal to the wine, and also appeared on a poster endorsing it.