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A Taste of History and a Tipple from the Past

There is nothing as satisfying as indulging in a glass of wine on a cold winter’s night. Indeed I have often said that a glass of wine is the best tonic in the world and it seems that my sentiment was shared by the French chemist and biologist who once said, “Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”

Throughout history wine has been revered for its restorative and health giving properties and in 1863 a French chemist named Angelo Mariani came up with a special type of Bordeaux wine that was marketed as a tonic wine that would restore health, energy, strength, and vitality. Called “Vin Tonique Mariani” the wine became very popular during its time, with many famous drinkers such as Queen Victoria, Ulysses S. Grant, Pope Pius X, and Thomas Edison. His Holiness Pope Leo XIII was such an aficionado of the wine that he was known to have carried a hip flask of this medicinal tipple. His devotion to the restorative wine saw him award a Vatican Gold Medal to Mariani as well as providing advertising endorsements for the wine.

The recipe for Mariani involved taking standard Bordeaux wine and allowing coca leaves to soak in it; the alcohol of the wine acted as a solvent which extracted cocaine from the leaves, giving the wine a cocaine content of around 7.2 milligrams per ounce. With advertising campaigns that promised fortification , nourishment and refreshment Vin Mariani was bound to have a wide reaching appeal and was certain to give drinkers a feeling of renewal for when cocaine and alcohol meet inside the body, they create a third unique drug called cocaethylene. Cocaethylene works like cocaine, but with more euphoria. With exhilaration abound it is easy to see how this drink became a pervasive brand that was heavily in demand and it may explain why the Victorians were so industrious.

With the success, rising demand and popularity of Vin Mariani came competitors as other manufacturers created their own Coca wines, one such brand was Pemberton’s French Wine Coca made by the pharmacist John S. Pemberton from Atlanta. Pemberton’s was advertised as ‘the great nerve tonic’ and as being a ‘tonic for the mind and body’. Pemberton took the Vin Mariani recipe and added the essence of kola nut to give it a unique and distinguishing flavour. Among many fantastic claims, it was noted as being “a most wonderful invigorator of sexual organs.”

When in 1885 Atlanta County passed prohibition ordnances banning the production or sale of alcohol, Pemberton reworked his recipe by replacing the wine with carbonated water and ‘Coca Cola : The Temperance drink’ was born.

The popularity of tonic wines resulted in a host of quasi-medical drinks coming on the market including Glendenning’s Meat and Malt wine promoted as a ‘perfect wine-food’; Liebig’s Extract of Meat and Malt Wine which was described as being: ‘life giving, sustaining and comforting’ and Colemans Brewery of Norwich’s , Wincarnis, which in 1904 ran an advertising campaign which described the product as a ‘scientific combination of malt extract, choice red wine and Liebig extract of meat.’ With the slogan ‘Restores vigour and vitality to convalescents’. These ‘cure all’ remedies claimed to be able to treat a broad range of vague symptoms that were difficult to pin down although the combination of wine, malt and warming botanicals probably did prove comforting and may well have had uplifting effects on one’s mood.

Today the rules on advertising products with purported health benefits are strictly regulated and with the invention of regulation went the wonderfully elaborate claims of life sustaining tonic wines. Whilst the golden age of tonic wines has faded, Wincarnis is very much still alive; it is now labelled explicitly labelled as a tonic wine and is produced by independent family run distiller, blender and bottler Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd, who were established in 1933, and bottled at Broadland Wineries Ltd., Norfolk. So you can enjoy a taste of history – whether you’re suffering from a nervous disposition or not. No longer containing meat extract, Wincarnis is now blend of enriched wine and malt extract infused with an array of botanicals including gentian root, mugwort, angelica root, balm mint, fennel seed, coriander seed, peppermint leaves, cardamom seeds and cassia bark. The drink now enjoys popularity all over the world and is excellent in cooking; particularly favoured in many recipes in Asia.

Modern research shows that red wine does contain several antioxidants, such as quercetin and resveratrol, which may play a part in helping to prevent heart disease and cancer. However, like all good things it should be enjoyed in moderation and guidelines recommend that women should drink no more than three units a day while men should have a maximum of four units a day. At the moment I am feeling the need to relax and reduce stress, but rather than pouring myself a glass of wine I am going to get busy in the kitchen and cook with a taste from the past in the form of a bottle of Wincarnis Wine.

Quick and easy to put together and rich and luxurious – these winter warmers are guaranteed to restore your spirit as well as fulfil your appetite. These recipes are in honour of my delight at finding that Wincarnis Wine is still alive and going strong. After all you can’t beat taste of history!

Potted Stilton with Wincarnis

This recipe is a luxurious way of enjoying stilton and crackers. It pairs well with apple chutney and is delightful with a tipple. This can be prepared in advance and will keep well in the fridge.


  • 200g Stilton , crumbled (rind removed)
  • 4 tbsp. Wincarnis Wine
  • 140g unsalted butter
  • A little freshly ground nutmeg
  • freshly ground black pepper


Put the Stilton, 100g of the butter and the Wincarnis in a bowl; season with a few grinds of black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Mash the mixture with a fork until smooth and creamy. Spoon the mixture into a large ceramic pot.

Melt the remaining butter in a small pan and clarify (see instructions on clarifying butter). Spoon the clarified butter over the cheese mixture, making sure it’s completely sealed. Chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours before serving. This will keep for up to one month in the fridge.

Winter Warmer Casserole

Clarifying Butter

Clarified butter is butter from which all milk solids has been removed. The result is a clear yellow fat that has excellent keeping quality.

Place the butter in a heavy saucepan over a very low heat. Melt gently. When completely melted, cool slightly and then skim off all the froth from the surface. You will then see a clear yellow layer on top of a milky layer.

Carefully pour the clear fat into a jug, leaving the milky residue in the pan. The milky residue makes a nice addition to soups and risottos, but it is important not to allow it into your yellow clarified butter as it will impair the keeping quality

As Old Man Winter refuses to go quietly this warming meal is ideal for evenings spent by the fire. I like to serve this with hunks of bread for dipping into the rich sauce. This dish is ideal for keeping out the winter chills and cries out to be served with a glass of rich, spicy red wine.


  • 1 tbsp. sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 4 celery sticks, sliced
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 150ml Wincarnis Wine
  • 600ml vegetable stock, hot
  • 410g can haricot or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 large beetroots, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled, cut into wedges


Heat the oil in a casserole or large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery and thyme sprigs to the pan and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree and flour and cook for a further minute.

Pour in the Wincarnis wine, bring to the boil and bubble until reduced by two-thirds.

Add beetroot, potato and stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in the beans and add the cinnamon stick. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 45 minutes or until beetroot is tender.

Season to taste. Serve with cheesy mash and vegetables or hunks of fresh bread.


When preparing beetroot, it’s best to wear kitchen gloves to prevent the beetroot from staining your hands, but if your hands do get stained, try rinsing them with lemon juice – this should help remove the staining.

With my cooking complete all that remains is to pour me a glass of wine in the name of good health. Cheers!



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