Step 1Combine the wine, vanilla bean and seeds, lemon peel and sugar in a saucepan large enough to hold 4 pears. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to simmer.
Step 2Peel the pears, leaving the stem intact. Use a melon baller or a half-teaspoon measuring spoon to remove the core at the bottom of the pear.
Step 3Place the pears in the simmering wine and cook, turning frequently to immerse the pears in the wine on all the sides. Poach until a small knife can easily pierce the pears, about 8 to 15 minutes, depending on size and ripeness.
Step 4Remove the pears using a slotted spoon and place them in a large glass bowl. Pour half the poaching liquid over the pears. Set aside the remaining poaching liquid in the pan to make the caramel sauce. (The pears can be made up to a day ahead and refrigerated.)
Step 1Remove the lemon strips and vanilla bean from the reserved poaching liquid. Return the pan to the stove and cook the remaining liquid over medium heat until it reduces to half a cup, about 15 minutes.
Step 2Place the sugar and water in a medium heavy saucepan. Turn the heat to high and melt the sugar without stirring. When the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook without stirring until the sugar turns a deep amber color, 10 to 15 minutes.
Step 3Remove from heat and carefully add the reduced poaching liquid (pour it down the side of the pan). The mixture will bubble up and bits of sugar may harden.
Step 4Return the pan to the stove over medium heat. Stir in the cream. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. (Makes about 1 cup caramel sauce. The sauce can be made a day ahead. It will thicken as it cools; before serving, microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.)
Step 5Spoon a few tablespoons of caramel sauce onto each of 4 dessert plates. Place a pear on top of each plate. Drizzle the remaining sauce on top of pears near the stem and serve.