The Real Alternative Wine Glossary: O

Oak – Oyster



I’m getting oak with plummy overtones
I’m getting screwed on alimony

Oaked (pejorative) – eye of oak newt; essence of vanillin toad. Can be used to enrich or to cover up. Worst examples see the incarcerated and desiccated fruit flavours as mute witnesses reduced to blinking through the interstices of their oaken prison cells. See integrated.

Oaked 2 (even more pejorative)–

I can’t hack it. Except with an axe. Too many wines entombed in wooden sarcophagi. Just as clothes maketh not the man, oak maketh not the wine. Oak is a strong inflection, a flavour additive, to be employed judiciously like seasoning. Over-egging the wood swamps the essential fruit and terroir flavours. Too much clutter ensues; you can’t hear the voice of the wine for all the noise.

Some winemakers are addicted to oak.  I once tasted a wine with 400% new oak (new barrels renewed every year for four years) with some colleagues. We joked that it should be 400 RP points with each barrel inscribed with the legend: Exegi aere monumentum perennius’. The wine was superbly monolithic, architectural and impersonal.

Are we to drink oak juice? Is the wine for sipping reverently, to be scooped (or carved) out of the bottle with a sharp spoon? Will it digest our food or clog our arteries? Is it meant to drunk at all or placed instead on a high altar in the heaviest bottle imaginable for us to admire as a Platonic idea of a luxury wine?

We do prefer vino that is never knowing under-wined.

Obscure Grapes – Sleuths of recondite grapes, clap the deerstalker on your noggin, scrape out a few tunes on your trusty strad, forego the customary seven percent solution, for the game is afoot. Check out this mystery Jurassic gang.

Ampelographical archivists will lick their lips over indigenous oddities such as Petit Béclan, Gros Béclan, Gueuche (white and red), Seyve-Villard, Corbeau, Portugais Bleu, Enfariné, Argant which lead the roll call of the who’s? who. There are 17 of these small but beautiful varieties nestling in Jean-François Ganevat’s property. Some are white, like Seyve-Villard, most of the others are red-skinned with white juice. Then, there is Poulsard Blanc, Poulsard Musqué… all of which combine to have a party in “J’en veux”, a vin du soif, par excellence.  “Un vin de table fait de bric et de broc”.


Odd Grapes – obscure and recondite things to provide “a perfect nonplus and baffle to all human understanding.” –Robert Southey

Oeil de Perdrix or Ojo de Liebre? – Here’s mud in your respective eyes.

Oenologist –

Chips, Staves & Barrel Refresh
More wood than the whole of Uttar Pradesh
Chippy chips & stove-roasted staves
Are oenologists’ tricks if the wine misbehaves 

Oenologist, The Importance of Being – Oscar Wilde Ferment

– I was discovered inside a case of free Gallo wine samples at Heathrow Airport.
– A Brand Blag?!
– I believe it was a case of Chardonnay destined for a restaurant in Belgravia.
– Mr Worthless, the grape variety is irrelevant. I will not consent to my niece conducting a relationship with a supermarket trolley or marrying into a wine lake.
– My intentions are entirely honourable. I believe in minimal intervention.
– My dear sir, doing nothing may be the natural thing, but nature itself is entirely unnatural. We should avoid contact with it at all costs.
– Do you not enjoy the taste of wine, Lady Brandall?
– It is so much better not to enjoy wine. One can then boast about one’s disappointment. Besides all pleasures are fleeting. My disappointment invariably begins the moment the cork is pulled.
– I would venture to disagree. I believe that one does not taste wine. It tastes us.
– I’m sure, Mr Worthless that is a dreadfully modern thing to say. However, it does not avoid the fact that the wine you make has no purpose other than as a medicinal cure for fainting fits. Unless you can furnish me with evidence of a noble viticultural lineage I must ask you to cease paying court to my niece.
To be continued….


Oenomancy – Putting on my pointy star-spangled hat as the prognosticator of all prognosticators, the nostril-damus (sic) of wine magii, the oenomancer extraordinaire reading the future of the wine trade in the coiled sediment of an unfiltered natural wine, I will make the following predictions with absolute lack of confidence…

Off – Not on

Offwine – A quango at grand wine tastings that functions as a fault clinic.

Oidium – A bilious tract written about an offensive wine.

Ouillage – French word meaning both ullage and topping up. Which is like having your cake and eating it.


Old Vines – or vieilles vignes as seen on a few French bottles. As far as I can tell there is no specific age requirement to merit this description, although one would expect a minimum of thirty years. Wine made from these gnarled oldsters will have more colour, depth and concentration of fruit because the vines yield less and their roots tend to probe deeper dredging up extra good gunky flavours (technical wine expression).

Old World – Misspelling of Olde Worlde.

Oloroso – Theoretically a strong dark dry intensely nutty style of sherry, but may also refer to a commercial sweet blend not dissimilar to a cream sherry. Oloroso may only be advertised by superannuated ex-Shakespearian actors in their anecdotage in richest, plummiest of voices.

Ondenc – Ondenc (Oundenc, Oundeng à Gaillac) was once widespread throughout the south west and the Loire; after phylloxera it virtually died out. Plageoles preserved it for his luscious nectar – Le Vin d’Autan. According to Paul Strang, Plageoles describes it as “a nul autre comparable, il est le vin du vent et de l’esprit.”

Opening a bottle – The creation of expectation, the cause of trepidation – and occasional mirth. You can be a flashy popper and inhale the cork with lusty abandon, or a sagacious easer, prising the stopper out with scarce a whisper. Traditional corks provide a real challenge, especially older one. A disintegrating cork on an expensive wine tests the moral fibre and the limits of profanity of amateur and sommelier alike.

Options game – A blind tasting game developed by Len Evans based on giving tasters a series of precise options in order to guess the identity of the wine. Now there are many variations on blinding tasting games where the chief objective is assail an expert with the most phenomenally obscure wine on the planet – for example, a white Pinot Noir from Chile under flor.


Orange Boom – The growth of skin contact wines.

Orange River – A region in South Africa that produces exclusively skin contact wines.

Organic – Raped environment led polluters on, defense attorneys argue -The Onion

Organics – see also biodynamics – an approach to grape growing which eschews the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides and accentuates the importance of sustainable agriculture. An organic winemaker is one, who does not, as it were, bite the hand that lays the golden egg.

Organic certification – Having proved the existence of God, measured the diameter of the universe, calculated the number of angels that could comfortably perch on the head of a pin and made the Hadron collider work, scientists and politicians were unable to arrive at a binding definition of organic wine last night in the French resort of Vacheville-sur-la-Merde. We are still waiting for the manure to hit the fan, said a spokesperson for co-operatives and growers.


Outrage, Manufactured – Never shy of ventilating a self-aggrandising quote Monsieur Pooter (to protect his anonymity) is the latest soi-disant celebrity boffer of natural wine. The term natural wine, as we’ve witnessed on frequent previous occasions, has a profound Gallicising effect on certain people. They will sigh like forlorn lovers, shrug their shoulders fervidly, make exaggerated pronouncements, argue the philosophical and physiological impossibility of it all and yet, and yet, ironically, share platforms with winemakers who craft wines in precisely the manner they derogate. Such exhalations of unfettered passion barely disguise the overweening hypocrisy of pronouncements which offensively belittle the efforts of growers whose own livelihood (and passion) is winemaking.

If there were a natural wine movement they would surely build a shrine to the eminently sane and rational Monsieur Pooter that well-known nonpareil of tolerance, whom one could never accuse of using crass abuse as a substitute for skilful reason. You would scarcely discern the clunking self-regard in his simulated outrage, for this inveterate publicity monger reveals admirable restraint in his pronouncements. Evidently, Monsieur Pooter hasn’t the slightest idea what hyperbole is.

Nor does he seem to suffer knowingly from a surfeit of logic. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to weep with laughter at his cartoon-lite view of reality as he pitches his vision, a kind of “Plan Nine from Outer Space” scenario. Truly, we have a new candidate for the Edward D Wood Junior of the wine world. Who can resist a phrase like “It is a connerie”. So, let me get this right. In Pooter world toxic yeasts brought by hippies from another planet – all played by Sean Connerie in a variety of fright wigs culled from the movie Zardoz – threaten the future of conventional wine as we know it, with their deadly vinegar guns. Mankind, as we know it, will be cast back into those dark ages before benevolent supermarkets controlled our buying habits by forcing winemakers to make squeaky-clean wines. Fortunately, sulphur man and strip-filter man combine with our third super hero, flavoured-yeast man, to neutralise all the nasties enabling us to return safely to drinking wines stripped of individuality. The end. Roll credits.

Over-sulphuring – Today, I actually singed my tongue on a Mosel Riesling (one of this new Germanic Riesling x Sulphur hybrids) and had a palate-mangling from a New Zealand version of the same grape. It’s oddly re-assuring to try wines that can actually re-arrange the molecular furniture in your mouth and which others believe are the bee’s rollerskates. You end up thinking that either you’re crazy or they are. It’s just quicker and easier to believe that they’re crazy. When you point out the toxic presence of sulphur to less experienced tasters they often say: “Oh, that’s what that flavour is”, whilst more experienced; tasters either don’t recognise it or don’t want to recognise it for, if you spend your life lauding certain wines only to be told that they are technically faulty, of course you are going to want to to defend your position. Human nature being what it is. (Maybe a dash of sulphur dioxide will serve to “correct” human nature). Yes, this technically bad winemaking is acrid sauce for the goose as well as the gander. Some natural wines and many conventional wines (those we very much take for granted) are faulty, either because the winemaker hasn’t intervened when necessary or because he or she has intervened far, far too much.


Oxford Landing – Oxford Landing’s ambitious plans to turn Oxford Circus tube station into a vineyard have sadly fallen as flat as a floater in a veggo restaurant. “Transport for London didn’t like the idea of us pumping high grade pesticide onto the platforms and putting sulphur dioxide into the air vents”, commented a surprised spokesman for Oxford Landing.  Other suggestions for stations to be renamed and absorbed into the greater Aussie culture include Bond-i Beach Street, whilst the Barbican will become Barbie and Waterloo will be reinvented as Big Dunny. Even familiar non-transport-related landmarks could be given an Aussie makeover; there are plans afoot, for example, to change the name of Buckingham Palace to Queensland.

Oxidative – Customarily a wine made in a style wherein there is contact between the wine and air. Sherry, Marsala, old style Rioja, traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape, certain Chenin from the Loire, Grenache Blanc. When it is expected critics coo over it; when unexpected they say that the wine is oxidised (see below). Sometimes it is a question of degree; sometimes it is deplored because it is seen as the death-knell of the wine in question.

Oxidised – Generally pejorative term describing the result of interaction between oxygen and red wine. Worst-case scenario: dull colour, stale, sweaty socks and cara-smelly aromas. Confounded with oxidative (q.v.) by many thinkers and drinkers who should know better.

Oxymoron – Someone who is obsessed by oxidation in wine to a stupid degree.

Oyster – (i) A person who liberally sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish expressions (from The Washington Post); (ii) A bivalve to be washed down with a good glass of Chablis.

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