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Wine of the Week for week ending 20 April 2008
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Lochiel 'The Laird' Fortified Dessert Wine
Mangawhai, New Zealand

You wouldn't expect to find a vineyard nestled in the eastern lee of Northland's Brynderwyn Hills, a little inland from the spectacular surf beach at Mangawhai Heads. But in this hidden oasis where olive groves dot the landscape together with an avocado orchard and a passionfruit orchard, there is actually a cluster of three. The location in King Road, Mangawhai, a couple of hours drive north of Auckland City, could definitely be considered Northland's newest wine growing region and it's all thanks to Liz, Gary and Rob Cameron.

Brook Lane, at the end of the King Road, with a natural north-facing, amphitheatre-like setting, is where Liz and Gary Cameron have set up their retirement venture, Lochiel Estate. It's a vineyard and boutique bed and breakfast but unlike other retirement vineyard ventures, this one is complete with onsite winery and dedicated winemaker, who just happens to be Liz and Gary's son, Rob. In fact Rob was the catalyst for the vineyard and winery. He is a Lincoln graduate with winemaking experience at Villa Maria Estate in Auckland, three successive vintages in Slovenia, the most recent as consultant winemaker for Cellar World International, followed by vintages in Cyprus and Moldova before becoming a Chief Winemaker for Cellar World, overseeing all the projects. Now, to have his own winery is pretty much a dream come true.

The Cameron's wanted their vineyard to be in an affordable location reasonably close to New Zealand's biggest city. They soon found out Clevedon was expensive and that Matakana was even more expensive. Then they found the land at Mangawhai with clay loam soils the same as in Matakana and an aspect that was a perfect little suntrap and it was hard to ignore. They purchased the property in 2001 and planted grapes in 2002 and 2005 with the first harvest also in 2005.

Their plantings have inspired the neighbours, Kingsview Estate in King Road, which you pass on the way to Lochiel Estate and the Millars next door. It is Kingsview Estate's first harvest this year and the Millars second. Rob makes all of the wines at Lochiel Estate's winery.

When we called into Lochiel Estate last weekend, it was also Mangawhai Walking Weekend with the ramblers on the Food Experience stopping in the vineyard for their picnic lunch and a spot of grape tasting straight off the vines. We were luckier. We had a wine tasting.

There are just three wines currently available - a Rose made from Merlot grapes and a Chardonnay. Inspired by the Cameron's Scottish heritage, the head of the clan is 'The Laird'. This is a fortified Desert Wine made from Malbec grapes. Rob explains that this is fortified wine made as fortified wine, not as an afterthought and he is setting up a Solera system for aging the wine in barrel. He is also distilling his own grape spirit. It will be interesting the see the results in a few years. But the current release of 'The Laird' is one vintage only and has been matured in old American oak for 15 months. It was released last year. Lochiel 'The Laird' Fortified Dessert Wine - photo by Sue Courtney

Deep purple crimson in colour, bright and opaque, it's spicy, rich, plummy and just a little spirituous on the nose. The flavour is just gorgeous - it is rich, weighty, bright-fruited and expansive with a slight mintiness, deep purple fruit, subtle oak and smooth, satin-sheet tannins. There's no overt spirit flavour at all although there is alcoholic lift and warmth to the finish, which leaves a warm minty sensation, the aftertaste that reminds me of Cadbury's Old Gold dark chocolate with raspberry chips. The wine has 17% alcohol by volume and 500ml-sized bottle costs $29 from the cellar door or from

Neil found aromas of spiced blackberry jelly and rich, weighty flavours of spice, black forest chocolate, nuts and a long spirituous finish. In my absence this week, he was charged with finding the perfect cheese or chocolate match.

In the cheese department the best match was Rosenberg Danish Blue. This salty tangy cheese has a strong nutty bite and a long lasting flavour and the wine and cheese combination is smooth.

Blue cheeses definitely work with 'The Laird' as Galaxy Creamy Blue enhances the spiciness of the wine while the smooth textured nutty flavour of the brown ash-coloured washed rind Ferndale Bleu de Montagne was also a good match.

Most of the cheddars were too creamy but the wine mellowed the bitiness of the Whitestone Totara Tasty Vintage Cheddar, while Hutchesons English Leicester made the wine taste a little like an Aussie Liqueur Tokay.

Best chocolate match, funnily enough, was the Cadbury Old Gold with Raspberry, the chocolate that on first tasting the wine I was reminded of. Richfields Classic Dark was also an excellent match.

Mangawhai chocolate maker, Bennetts, also come up trumps with their Bennetts of Mangawhai Hazelnut Chocolate. It enhances the nutty flavours in the wine while Bennetts of Mangawhai 70% Dark enhances the spiciness of the wine.

© Sue Courtney
13 Apr 2008

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