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Provence: Its Transportive Rosé Wine

The Clos Sainte Magdeleine vineyards; rosé with Parmesan and goat cheeses at Château de Cassis.

Photo: Ditte Isager

But here we were, eating like enlightened Californians in Provence. The food, from the garden and from friends, was perfect. We cut into the wobbly pork, its long-cooked meaty bits suspended in dark jelly, and toasted its maker, Lapierre, with a bottle of old Morgon. (A few weeks later, the sad news came that Lynch’s close friend and trading partner Lapierre had died unexpectedly.)

That afternoon Lynch indulged me with talk of rosé and its connection to summer. He remembered his early visits with Olney and his neighbors the Peyrauds, whose vines now grew in the garden below. Lulu is 94 now, still social and cooking and enjoying her wine. “A couple of years ago she was up here to say hello one summer day,” Lynch said. “It was hotter than hell, and I said, ‘Lulu, let me offer you some lemonade.’ ‘Non non, je ne bois que du vin rouge.’ And she just downs it in one go like a glass of water. Really, I’ve never seen that before. You could probably get arrested for that in America.”

Driving around the Rosé Coast (a name I just made up), I had time to ponder Lynch’s dilemma about the so-so food. It was a bummer, but did it matter? Watching the sparkle of the sea, I decided to take a rosé outlook on things.

The truth is that anyone visiting the south of France hoping to find a perfectly unspoiled sun-drenched culinary nirvana was engaging in a bit of harmless, hopeful fantasy. I’d dreamed of Bandol since that first glass of Tempier, but hadn’t bothered to look up an actual picture of the resort town. It’s kind of a cheesy place. And there are other nearby, tacky spots where the restaurants don’t cook. They just defrost. But that’s okay because you could avoid all that. In the hills above those resorts they are making beautiful wines in pretty, still-wild hills where the sun-seeking tourists never bother to venture.

One day, I followed traffic circles off the Bandol exit toward the little hamlet of Le Plan-du-Castellet. Carefully, I passed tractors puttering along, pulling their crates of grapes. It’s easy to get turned around and I circled for a while before finding Domaine Tempier. The affable young winemaker Daniel Ravier led me down to the storied cellar for a tasting. Afterward, Ravier suggested I poke my head in the main house and ask someone to find Lulu and ask if she felt like greeting a visitor.

Lulu appeared, wearing a white sweater with pockets, silver earrings, reading glasses around her neck, and a sweet, curious smile.

Taking my hand she asked, “Could we have a glass of wine, the two of us?” Yes, I thought, we could.

“2007 or 2008?” she asked.

Your choice, Lulu.

“I am very old, so I like the young ones.” She laughed, took a generous sip, and suggested: bois-le tranquillement, drink it at your leisure. We talked for a while about her wines and cooking. I told her how much I liked the book she’d made with Olney. “Ah, you’re a great connoisseur,” she said, teasingly. Though I wouldn’t get a chance to taste her famous home cooking, I did have the true Lulu experience: she’d welcomed me, like so many visitors before me, and charmed me with her wry, warm, slightly mischievous attentions.

After a little while, Lulu apologized and said it was time for her to take her leave. “I am so tall that I am tired of standing. Good luck!”

I was delighted with my audience with a legend but there was one more place that I had to see. Back in my Fiat 500, from Bandol I headed past Toulon, turning toward Hyères and south past flat salt marshes and increasingly scrubby seaside roads. Finally the dinky D97 terminates at a small port with little more than a convenience store (stocking a half-dozen bottles of halfway decent rosé, naturally) and a ferry dock.

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