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Step back in time at the John Marshall Tasting Experience

Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.

John Marshall was considered the Babe Ruth of the Supreme Court. He wrote or co-wrote over a thousand legal decisions during his thirty-four year span on the court and was the longest-serving Chief Justice of the United States.

He was also related to Thomas Jefferson, his political adversary. While they often opposed each other on a range of national issues, it’s likely they shared a glass of wine on occasion given Jefferson’s reputation for hosting numerous White House dinners.

On July 14, the home of John Marshall will open to the public for the purpose of tasting the best of Virginia and international wines. The legendary Chief Justice would likely have cast a vote in favor of his home’s new purpose; perhaps even calling it a wise decision.

The home, Oak Hill Estate, is located adjacent to Barrel Oak Winery and was built by Thomas Marshall, John’s father, in 1773. The home is reached by entering the Barrel Oak property in Delaplane and following the signs. While not as impressive as Monticello or Montpelier, the seven-room frame house was nonetheless a home of note in its era. John Marshall took ownership of the estate when his father moved to Kentucky in 1785.

Justice Marshall’s Oak Hill Estate is now home to a new tasting experience in Virginia wine country. Photo by John Hagarty.

Today, the home has been restored but not extensively. Given the likely millions of dollars required to bring the property back to its original condition one can understand the scale of restoration.

One week prior to its official launch, Brian and Sharon Roeder, owners of Barrel Oak Winery and creators of the John Marshall Tasting Experience, hosted friends and valued customers to a preview of the unique tasting. My wife Jean and I and our friends Fred and Betsy accepted the special invite. We’re glad we did.

After entering the home through the front entrance—with views of the rolling Piedmont countryside—we were escorted upstairs to a seated tasting. Our host, Andy Melton, a winery partner, explained how a guest would typically select one of five distinct flights of wines. However, only three flights were available for the preview audience given the gratis invitation.

Each flight appropriately had a legal theme:

The Circuit Tasting—“Sweet Piedmont”; four off-dry or semi-sweet wines from Virginia’s Piedmont.  $25
The Superior Tasting—“Best of the Piedmont”; four wines representing top wines from the region.  $35
The Appellate Tasting—“Best of Virginia”; four selections from quality producers statewide.  $55
The Supreme Tasting/Reds or The Supreme Tasting/Whites; four quality wines from around the world. $75

Each flight opened with a sparkler, Fitz-Ritter Riesling Extra Trocken NV (extra dry) and ended with Blandy’s 5 Year Malmsey Maderia; all six selections were served with artfully presented, tasty food pairings.

Everyone in our group selected The Appellate Tasting that featured:

2011 Rappahannock Cellars Viognier—Ducard Vineyard
2010 Jefferson Cabernet Franc
2008 White Hall Cuvee Des Champs
2009 Barrell Oak Winery Reserve Petit Verdot

The wines were paired with spicy raspberry preserves on brie; chocolate filled farm raspberries; rolled stuffed cucumber; and prosciutto-wrapped dates.

The flight was served on a modified aroma wheel tasting placemat reflecting the palate profile and tasting notes of each wine.

While we leisurely sampled the wine and food pairings for more than an hour, I was struck how unique it was to be sitting in an historical home in one of the most storied states in the Nation. History is my passion—along with wine—and the experience was enhanced given its location.

The view from John Marshall’s Oak Hill Estate in Delaplane, VA. Photo by John Hagarty.

All the wine and food selections fulfilled our expectations but I anticipated more attention being given to the home and its history. While our knowledgeable host answered my inquiring-mind queries, I would have enjoyed a more docent-like explanation of the home and its former residents. I could even envision a period costumed performer, similar to “George Washington” at Mount Vernon, ambling from room to room describing the home and its history.

The John Marshall Tasting Experience is offered by appointment each weekend from 11am till 6pm, through October. For more information, visit the Oak Hill Estate web site.

JOHN HAGARTY’s love of all things wine led to a second career in the wine business after retiring as an executive with the federal government. Currently, he is Manager, Special Events, at Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly, VA. He also writes extensively on wine related issues for local and state publications and is a home winemaker. John has an open door policy so visit him at Hagarty-on-Wine.com.

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