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Technical Wine Terms O to P

  • Oechsle: one of several units of measurement used for quantifying grape ripeness by sugar content (must weight). In brief, it compares the density of grape must to that of water. Others units include Brix, Baume and Balling.

  • Old Vines: and its translated forms vieilles vignes (French), viñas viejas (Spanish), vinhas velhas (Portuguese) and alte Reben (German), is a term used to describe wine made from vines of substantial age. There is no official definition or standard for what constitutes an 'old' vine, but most authorities agree on 30 years as a minimum. Vine age has a significant effect on wine quality; after about 25 years of productivity, a vine's vigor and yield begin to reduce, leading to greater concentration of flavors in its grapes. Some vines, notably in California and Australia's Barossa, remain productive for over 100 years. Wines made from these are occasionally labeled as 'Ancient Vines'.

  • Old World: the old wine world is confined to Europe; more specifically, the historic wine-growing regions of western and central Europe. Within the Old World, tradition and culture take precedence over innovation and scientific application - in both vineyard and winery. The relevance of terroir is particularly important to these regions, although it is also recognized in the New World. The wine production and labeling laws of the Old World are typically far more rigid than those of New World.

  • Oloroso: is a Spanish word meaning literally 'odorous' or 'pungent'. It is used to describe a style of Sherry with a rich, nutty aroma produced by oxidative ageing (see below).

  • Organoleptic: refers to sensory organs. In beverage contexts, it refers to the use of sight, smell and taste to assess the qualities (and quality) of a wine, beer or spirit.

  • Orientation: refers to the position of vines, particularly vine rows, within a distinct geographical location or vineyard. Orientation determines the amount and quality of sunlight received throughout the day which, in turn, influences the maturity and quality of the grapes. Generally speaking, a northern orientation for southern hemisphere vineyards and a southern orientation for vineyards in the northern hemisphere will be best for optimal sunshine hours. However the amount of sunlight received on the vines will also depend on other factors, such as the altitude of the vineyards and the type of trellis system used.

  • Oxidative ageing: the technique of maturing wine with controlled, deliberate air contact. This ultimately leads to oxidation, and results in a very particular set of flavors and aromas (walnuts, toffee, fruit cake, candied orange). It is most famously used in the production of Madeira, and is sometimes known as 'Maderization'. The oloroso and amontillado styles of Sherry and the rancio wines of Banyuls are other examples of oxidatively matured wines.

  • Paris Judgment: a famous wine competition held in Paris in May 1976, when top wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux were blind-tasted alongside top wines from California. Controversially (and to widespread shock) the panel of judges, most of whom were from France, rated several of the American wines more highly than the French wines. For more information, see this article.

  • Phenolics: (or polyphenols) are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in grapes, which give a wine its profile. These include the flavor and color compounds and tannins, as well as hundreds of other complex chemical components which are vital to a wine's character.

  • Phylloxera: a sap-sucking insect which feeds on (and destroys) the roots of grapevines. Phylloxera had its greatest impact on the winemaking world in the late 19th century, when it decimated vineyards all over Europe and earned itself the suffix vastatrix ('devastator'). It has since reached almost every viticultural region on earth.

    Only a few of the world's wine regions remain phylloxera-free, thanks either to their sandy soils, in which phylloxera cannot live (e.g. Colares), or to their geographical isolation (e.g. Chile). In some places phylloxera has been successfully controlled through quarantine enforcement, but most commonly the threat is mitigated by grafting vines onto phylloxera-resistant rootstocks.

  • Phenolic ripeness: (or 'physiological ripeness') denotes ripeness in terms of the development of phenolics (e.g. tannins and anthocyanins) in a grape's skin, seeds and stems. It is distinct from 'sugar ripeness', which is a measure of sugar accumulation and the break-down of unpalatable acids.

  • Pigeage: is the French term for 'punching down' – the process of breaking up and plunging down the thick cap of grape solids which forms during fermentation. This action extracts color and tannins from the skins and stalks, bringing structure and organoleptic complexity to the fermenting juice. It also helps to aerate the wine, increasing its resilience to oxidation in the longer term.

  • Potential alcohol: is a measurement of the total alcohol content of a wine after all the natural grape sugars are fully fermented.

  • Primeur: a French word which literally means 'youth'. It denotes a light, fruity style of wine given little or no ageing before it is released to market. Primeur wines are best consumed within a year or two of vintage and do not benefit from bottle ageing. The term nouveau (meaning 'new') is sometimes used interchangeably with 'primeur', most famously for Beaujolais Nouveau. 'En Primeur' is an entirely distinct concept, and denotes wines purchased 'in youth', many months prior to their commercial release and typically while still in barrel.

  • Prohibition: refers to the period from 1920-1933 in which the Volstead Act (and ultimately the 18th Amendment of the US Constitution) prohibited the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors. The controversial, much-opposed act had severe consequences for the American wine industry. It led to many vineyards being abandoned, or ripped out in favor of other agricultural crops. The 21st Amendment (the Repeal of Prohibition) passed in 1933 put an end to the ban, but the American wine industry did not begin to recover properly until the 1970s.
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