Illustration by Alyssa Nassner
If you’ve ever caught a whiff of warm, woolly sweater in your wine, perhaps a bit musty from rain or sweat, you’ve experienced what’s described as a lanolin note.
Along with other seemingly unpleasant wine descriptors like “petrol,” “barnyard” or “rubber,” a touch of lanolin can lend complexity to straightforward, fruity flavors in wine. A touch of lanolin can be that quirk that makes it just a shade more mysterious and intriguing.
Lanolin is a waxy substance secreted by sheep that’s often added to moisturizers and cosmetics. The substance isn’t added to wine but is a common term to describe aromas reminiscent of wet wool or wax or an oily sheen in certain wines.
Predominantly, lanolin is used to describe characteristics of wines like Chenin Blanc, particularly Old World expressions from the Loire, but also some from South Africa, too. Lanolin’s waxy, wooly aromas and viscous mouthfeel are also used to describe Sémillon, a white wine that lends heft to Bordeaux’s great white blends and is increasingly popular in Australia. Mature examples of Riesling and white blends from Rioja or the Rhône can also suggest lanolin.