The Spiritual Side Of Wine



A review of Or HaGanuz Namura Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Angel’s Envy American Whiskey.


By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  February 8, 2012


Angel's EnvyWhen consumed appropriately, wine has been known to induce contemplative and even religious thought. Sometimes, as we’ll see shortly, it is exactly this sort of contemplative, religious thought that leads to the production of wine. Bear with us for a moment.


Jewish mystics believe that there is an Or HaGanuz, or a “hidden light,” that is the source of spiritual awareness. When God created the world he said, “Let there be light,” yet the sun and stars were not created until the fourth day. It is this first light that dispelled the darkness, and is unlike the later, more mundane, light of the stars that we are accustomed too. According to the Talmud (Chagigah 12a-b), this light had special attributes and enabled Adam “to see from one end of the world to another”, but that “God saw that the wicked were unworthy of enjoying it and therefore set it aside for the use of the righteous in the World to Come.”


In the meantime, say many of the commentators and most of the kabbalists, this hidden light was stored in the words of the Oral Torah. Thus through the learning of the Talmud, one has the ability to gain some of the world-spanning illumination and perspective provided by this hidden light. This conceptual approach was brought down to earth even more by Martin Buber in his 1924 Das verborgene Licht (The Hidden Light), a collection of chasidic tales.


The concept of a powerful and transformative “hidden light” that dispels the darkness and establishes separation between day and night is a potent one. For those of a mystical bent, this concept resonates deeply as transformation and separation are already integral components of Jewish religious thought and practice – often recognized and sanctified with benediction over wine. (Thought we’d never get back on track, right?)


For wine can be said to be the quintessential symbol of this transformative process. Wine is one manifestation of the partnership between God and man, since winemaking is the transformation of one of God’s gifts into something truly special through man’s efforts.


All of which brings us back, finally, to our wine recommendation, as it is upon this general line of thinking that the kosher Or HaGanuz winery was founded in 2005 in Israel’s eastern upper Galilee at the base of Mount Meron, just a few miles northwest of Sfat.


The Or HaGanuz winery was founded, and is operated and managed by, the kabbalist-minded zealously Orthodox cooperative village of the same name, under the direction of veteran winemaker Yehuda Camisa. The village itself was founded in the early 1990s by Rabbi Mordechai Sheinberger and his students, and proclaims its founding motto as the admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In keeping with the religious fervor of the Or HaGanuz village, the wines are certified kosher under the Badatz.


Or Haganuz produces over 140,000 bottles each year of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc and Barbera under the Amuka, Marom and Namura labels. Our wine this week is the non-mevushal Or HaGanuz Namura Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($28), produced from grapes grown high in the Galilee hills. It is soft and nicely balanced with red berry, plum and lavender scents that flow into cassis, cedar and blackberry flavors with hints of mint in the finish.


Contemplating the Or HaGanuz Winery, and its lifestyle and philosophy, reminds us of the famous line from poet A.E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad”:

“And malt does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man.”


Which brings us, inexorably, to our spirit selection this week. Just to try and stick to the sub-theme of the sublime, we thought we’d try Angel’s Envy American Whiskey ($43).


The whiskey is the latest creation of Lincoln Henderson, former master distiller for the Brown-Forman Corp and a member of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s Bourbon Hall of Fame. It is the first product release of the Louisville Distilling Company, run by Henderson’s son, Wes.

The name Angel’s Envy is a cute marketing ploy. The whiskey that naturally evaporates through the barrel during the maturation process, usually around the rate of 2% per year, is traditionally referred to as the angels’ share. The word “envy” suggests that this whiskey is so good, the angels wanted more.


To further establish the marketing deep thinking behind this name, the actual whiskey is four-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon that underwent additional three to six months of maturation, or finishing, in port pipes (European Oak barrels that originally held port wine). The fanciful, tongue-in-cheek account of this on their website, and the attractive packaging and bottle design, demonstrates just how smooth and polished is the marketing machine behind all this:


“Legend has it that he [Lincoln Henderson, the whiskey’s creator] sat the angels down and got them to agree that they could take more of their share if they agreed to leave behind something even better. The deal was sealed. But when the angels snuck a sip of Lincoln’s incomparably smooth bourbon with exquisitely subtle ‘expressions’ that came from joining 200 years of bourbon tradition with 400 years of port wine heritage, they felt they should have gotten a bigger share. That’s why Lincoln thought it appropriate to call his bourbon Angel’s Envy. The angels, however, don’t find it funny.”


More often than not, such marketing guff makes us leery of the bottle’s contents. After all, good whiskey doesn’t need so much faux tradition and whimsy. It is earnestly believed in the trade that relatively new brands, like Angel’s Envy, must have interesting back stories or some history to tap into so as to convince us consumers into parting with our hard-earned cash. There is, obviously and sadly, something to this- which is why they all do it. The proof is in the profit.


Still, on the plus-side, Angel’s Envy is actually wonderful and dangerously easy drinking, bourbon whiskey. It is well-rounded, rich, and almost silky with charming berry and sweet citrus notes integrated into the more familiar maple syrup, toffee, and vanilla and all with some distinct if light spicy cinnamon. The longer you sit with this one, the more it grows on you – and before you know it, your glass is empty. Lovely. L’chaim!




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