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The "Good Wine" of the Wedding at Cana: What's "Wine on the Lees"? Is the Bible Anti-Alcohol?

Why does the steward at the Wedding at Cana praise the "good wine"? Did you know this fulfilled a Messianic prophesy from Isaiah? And from Moses?

Is the Bible against drinking alcohol? Is the wine at the Wedding at Cana non-alcoholic, as some Protestants argue? Ever heard of "wine on the lees" or aging wine "sur lie"? This is where your Catholic knowledge can inform your wine knowledge and vice-versa.

Jesus turns the water to wine at the Wedding at Cana, right? This is his first public miracle and will be connected to his "last miracle" before his death on the Cross. We remember Jesus turning the water into wine, but what comes after?

The Wedding at Cana: The Testing of the Wine

There was a very significant scene after Jesus turned the water into wine. Do you remember the testing of the wine at the Wedding at Cana? The steward of the feast says something to the bride-groom, i.e. the groom. What does he say?

The Steward says, as seen above, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."

After the Steward of the Feast says this, something strange happens. What's the next line of the Gospel?

This may not appear strange. Jesus just turned water into wine - why wouldn't his disciples start believing in him, right? But why? There is more going on here than just water turning into wine.

SIDENOTE: Here are some more posts on all the hidden meaning in John 2, the Wedding at Cana:  The Hidden Throne of Israel & The Blessed Mother and What's Really Happening at the Wedding At Cana: Mary's Intercession.

Jesus is the New Moses

First off, Jesus' miracle shows he is the New Moses. What was Moses' first "public" miracle? That is, what was the first of the plagues of Egypt?

The first plague of Egypt was the turning of the Nile into blood. It wasn't just the water of the Nile that Moses turned into blood, it was all the water in Egypt. Even the water in the stone jars, such as those at the Wedding at Cana!

Jesus adds a twist to the turning of water into blood. He first turns it into wine, then blood. When does Jesus turn wine into blood, his blood? This might seem obvious. The Last Supper, right? Yes, but Jesus does this throughout his final celebration of the Passover. He also drinks wine on the Cross which, at his death, becomes the blood that pours forth from his side.

This is one reason the disciples are struck by Jesus' actions. He is proving himself to be the New Moses. The Messiah was prophesied to be a prophet "like unto" Moses, and Jesus is doing just that. But there's more ...

But that's not all! Jesus also fulfills Isaiah's Prophesy

At Isaiah 25, Isaiah prophesies about the coming Messiah. The Messiah will destroy death ("swallow up death for ever") and forgive sins (take away "the reproach of his people").

But how will the Messiah do this? What will the Messiah use to do this?

Note: This is from the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) translation.

With WINE! The Messiah will do this with a feast of wine!

But not just any wine ...

The finest and most refined of wines. It will be a feast of "wine on the lees." 

Isaiah prophesies that the Lord will deliver His people from oppression with a "a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined." Basically, God promises the best of the best of the best wine.

Jesus delivers on that promise at the Wedding at Cana. This is the meaning of the steward's words!  This is why the disciples are so moved. They were well aware of Isaiah's prophesy.

Of course, Jesus will out-do himself at the Last Supper and on the Cross when he gives us his own blood as this wine. What better wine could there be, than wine which is God, Himself? That's no mere symbol!

But what are "lees"? Winemaking Sidenote

Are you still wondering what "lees" are? Lees are bits of yeast from grape skins that settle at the bottom of a wine vat. There's a bit of extra taste to be gained from aging wine "sur lie" or "on the lees" with the lees settling at the bottom of the wine vat. The lees are then filtered out of the "choice wine" thus created.
Lees from red wine
Interestingly, the lees are bits of dead yeast - isn't it interesting that death will flavor this new wine, when it is Christ's death which ultimately provides the new wine? And what did Isaiah say? The Messiah "will swallow up death forever" with this wine. You see ... every detail of Scripture is important!

Apologetic Note: Non-Alcoholic Wine? Is the Bible against drinking alcohol?

It should be noted: many Protestants are anti-alcohol and attempt to interpret the wine used in the Bible as unfermented wine, i.e. non-alcoholic grape juice. This isn't just false; it's crazy. 

For one, the lees were involved in producing the alcohol in the wine. What are they doing there if the wine isn't alcoholic? 

The alcohol in wine is produced through the process of fermentation. Yeast is the agent of fermentation. The lees are bits of fermented yeast and the grape skins the yeast grew on. Clearly, this is fermented grape juice - and not just that, extra-fermented. The lees were kept in to get that last bit of flavor and fermentation. 

Jesus can't be against the drinking of alcoholic wine if he just made the wedding party, who had already been drinking for days, six full stone jars of wine - that's about 600 hundred more bottles of wine!

Last point: So why does the Steward talk about saving the "Good Wine" until the last?

This is a reference to the wine of the Old Covenant versus the wine of the New Covenant. This tells us about God's plan of salvation. The greatest of all comes, not at the beginning, but at the end. The greatest of all is Jesus, not the prophets and patriarchs who preceded him. It is Jesus' own wine, his own blood, which is the "good wine" that is saved for last.

Did you learn something in this article? Please comment below and share!

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  1. I just picked up on something I had never seen before and so I thought I would share it. It regards the first miracle of Jesus turning water into wine. Firstly, there were six water pots of stone that were filled with water to the brim and I see this representing the six days of a new creation. For it was water and then it became wine. "Then after the chief steward tasted it he addresses the bridegroom saying, " Every man at first setteth forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse. But thou hast kept the good wine until now". What I see in here is a comparison between the Old Covenant (which Christ came to fulfill) and the New Covenant that he came to enter into with "as many as would receive him" I see this comparing the two covenants the Old and the New and saying he has saved the best for last.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Absolutely! You are experiencing the supernatural depth of John's Gospel - there are so many layers of meaning. The Messiah will usher in the New Covenant with a feast of "wine on the lees". Also, check out these other posts I've written on the Wedding at Cana:
      The Hidden Throne of Israel & the Blessed Mother
      What's Really Happening at the Wedding At Cana: Mary's Intercession

  2. Loved this article! There are so many connections I never made on my own when reading the Wedding at Cana.

    1. Thanks so much! The Gospel of John is just inexhaustibly rich. There's nothing else like it in all of history.

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