Context is everything, and I first tried the Peju Provence California Table Wine after a long day working in my basement, finishing up a home office: nailing in the baseboard, tacking up door casing, that kind of thing. Bent over, knees aching, but also buoyed the way I am when I get to work with my hands. Along the way, I’d taken an hour out to try a recipe I’d been curious about, the mixed-greens tart from Lulu’s Provençal Table. The book is a well-known star in the larger Chez Panisse firmament, but I’m new to it, and I’m smitten by the simple, home-kitchen-esque aesthetic—I’m trying to cook my way through it, and by the time I was opening the evening’s wine I’d converted four farm-fresh eggs, a pint of farm-fresh cream, a stick of butter, some flour, and some chard, spinach, arugula, and kale into something very much like a quiche. Am I proud of this? Yes, I’m proud of this. The thing was divine, and not least because it was a heart attack in a pretty package. I was also proud of it because of how it looked and smelled, and because I knew my two little girls would devour it, greens and all.
But anyway, the wine: It’s a “proprietary red and white blend” of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and French Colombard. It’s darker than most rosés and lighter than most reds—the bottle doesn’t designate its color, and it also offers the helpful tip: “Best Served Chilled.” (They mean this, too: Once the temperature rises, the appeal of the wine falls.) And here’s the surprise: Despite this distinctly unpromising—or, at the very least, suspicion-arousing—provenance, the wine is wonderful. It’s a genuine surprise, and you don’t have to be a superpalate to catch the fresh strawberry taste, not least because the liquid is so close to the color of fresh strawberries that it’s almost the first thing that comes to mind. But also, the strawberries are right there, the moment you take a drink. Popping the cork as a plus-quiche experiment, still wearing my dirty DIY clothes, and with my two little girls screaming and laughing and my tough-audience-for-wine wife brightening with every sip, I came to a firm judgment: This is a great little apéritif, and also a great pairing wine for a light summer meal. And I swear it’s not just because the word Provence was related to both my cookbook and my wine. Honestly. I’m not that pathetic.