Pairs Great with Red: The Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible

We found the perfect car for visiting Napa Valley

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For a guy possessing virtually zero knowledge about wine, I have been presented a daunting and tantalizing travel invitation: scoot up to Silver Oak Cellars in Napa Valley, see how their product goes from grape to bottle, sample an array of varieties, and get steeped in oenology over the course of one lazy, wine-drenched weekend.

My excursion is thankfully accompanied by a rather glorious 616 horsepower steed capable of inspiring a slew of automotive analogies to mask my unflinching ignorance on all things vinous. The car in question is a Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible, a honeyed ragtop with a silky smooth twin-turbo V12, a sumptuous interior, and a refined sensation of velocity that hits you like a swig of cabernet to the bloodstream.

The scenic route from L.A. to Napa—up Highway 33 through Ojai, across the undulating Route 58, and over the iconic Highway 101—seems tailor made for the Flying “B,” which gobbles seemingly endless stretches of tarmac like Henry VIII might have guzzled goblets of red. With a top speed of 202 mph, I may just as easily be spending the weekend behind bars.

My gracious hosts have scheduled a car service to get me to and from my imbibing responsibilities, leaving my borrowed six-figure ride for the scenic b-roads winding from the Los Angeles basin to the microcosm of California wine country, offering the perfect creative companion to my travelogue narrative.

We arrive safely at Silver Oak’s Alexander Valley headquarters well after midnight on Friday, and a meal prepped by the resident chef with a bottle of their 2009 cabernet sauvignon sets the tone for the weekend— oh, and in my non-expert opinion, the cab complements the grilled chicken breast rather nicely. (It’s okay to drink red with chicken, right?)

 
 
 

By 11:00 the next morning, we meet a rather sophisticated yet laid back assemblage of folks including Silver Oak’s resident PR gentleman who, as you might have deduced from his paradoxical description, is gracious, elegant, and well-steeped in wine knowledge. Feeling underequipped to discuss even the breezy white we’re sipping, I shift the topic to my quarter million dollar loaner, which looks rather dashing parked against the rows of grapevines sprawling across the property, if I do say so myself.

After some idle talk about road manners (stately!), acceleration (whooshy!), and perception by other drivers (snooty!), it’s time for our first stop: Twomey Cellars. Named after Silver Oak founder Ray Duncan’s mother’s maiden name, Twomey occupies an airy, modern building in Healdsburg.

Ideally, the tasting process is both methodical and organic, thanks to sommeliers who guide you through the arc of wine flights with equal parts factual information on the vintages and varieties at hand, and good old fashioned storytelling that conveys an inscrutable yet informative tone to the proceedings. The best combine encyclopedic knowledge of winemaking fun facts, historical weather data which contribute to each year’s signature trends, and the sort of ineffable charm that makes you want to make the afternoon go on forever.

The dynamic duo of art and science proves to be the winning combination when it comes to communicating the brand’s story. Sliding through flights—merlots, pinot noirs, and sauvignon blancs—we learn that iron in the soils of the Alexander Valley’s alluvial plains are critical for the wine’s fruity aroma, while limestone leads to more highly structured tannins and minerality. It also turns out that 2011 was an unseasonably cool year, which subsequently allowed for more “hang time” and enabled greater flavor development before grapes were picked. But despite mother nature’s direct influence on grape flavor, each of the 435 wineries in Napa Valley manage to yield wine with their own distinct personalities thanks to the seemingly endless variables that dictate how and when the grapes are picked, the process of barrel fermentation, and how those wines are blended. It’s a science that U.C. Davis spends hundreds of millions on researching every year, and one that is just as easily usurped by the vagaries of unfortunate weather or ill-chosen blend ratios.

We are then chauffered to Silver Oak’s Napa Valley headquarters in Oakville. The building’s modern feel is most evocatively countered in the space’s historical cellar, which showcases the brand’s greatest hits in a sleek, glass encased, library-like environment. Upstairs in an expansive, board-room style setting, a sommelier paints a picture of each sip, helping map the sensory experience of flavor: performed well, it’s the stuff of poetry; done poorly, and it’s enough to drive the most understanding souls to a merlot-inspired meltdown, a la Paul Giamatti in Sideways. Our host does a superb job of illuminating the shape and impression of each vintage, especially for the sort of audience likelier to be caught drinking an Allagash than a rosé on a hot summer afternoon.

The weekend winds down with a stroll past the massive American Oak barrels responsible for the fermentation process that allows yeast to consume the grape’s sugars, a process responsible for the particular arrangement of hydrogen and carbon atoms that yields alcohol.

If anything, this hands (and tongues) on learning experience draws another dimension to the experience of drinking wine that I hadn’t quite put a finger on before—the shapes, flavors, and colors you feel when the stuff touches your mouth, and tells the story of the men, women, and weather that make each bottle its own little narrative.

It’s something I ponder from the driver’s seat of the Bentley for the entire drive back to L.A., as the machine’s subtly modulated interplay between power and poshness, slightly burbly exhaust note, and exquisitely detailed leather and wood interior offers perhaps the most complete mechanical metaphor for what I tasted that warm weekend in Napa.

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