Pink and light in Provence

Van Gogh came here for the light, writing to his brother Theo: “Under the blue sky the orange, yellow and red splashes of the flowers take on an amazing brilliance and in the limpid air there is a something or other happier, more lovely than in the North.”

Cezanne was born here, in the charming town of Aix-en-Provence. His love of the color in the trees and especially in the mountains was born of the clear, almost searching light in Provence. There are plenty of vineyards too; Van Gogh painted some of the stubby old vines, capturing one spot on the backside of Mas de la Dame, a great Provencal winery. Mas de la Dame makes a lot of lovely red wine and a vibrant pink wine.

They’re not alone in making a pink wine. Most everyone in Provence makes pink wine; they have a lot of tourists and tourists all the world round like the same thing: pink. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, as Jerry Seinfeld used to say. Pink is good and in the midst of a hot summer, pink (and cold) can be great.

This week, I’m drinking pink wine nearly every day. Why? I’m in Provence, and it’s the famous wine of the region. It certainly doesn’t represent the best of what this beautiful and rugged seaside region can offer, but in the powerful and clarifying Provencal sun, it seems just right. At its best (and when youthful), it has brilliant color, more like a rose petal than the dullish orange-pink of so many other roses. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either (thanks again, Jerry), but fresh Provencal rose is pretty to the eye.

The nose too should be fresh and fruit-laden: strawberries, raspberries, red cherries and currants are a pretty good approximation of Provencal rose’s aromas. But being that we’re talking about Provence, where rosemary bushes grow wild, and where the garrigue, a wealth of wild herbs and native plants, offer herbal, dusty notes to the wines, well, that note is present too. It makes for a hint of complexity smothered by a cold, pink, fruity, gratifying gush of juiciness. It’s as if you’re in a fascinating conversation about Schopenhauer with a beautiful woman, and then it turned out she just wants to make out.

Okay, maybe I got carried away. But Provence will do that to you: the sun is so bright, the air is so clear, the colors are so vibrant. Yes, van Gogh got carried away too, to rather unhappy effect. Not this Provencal visitor. For at least a few more summer days, I’m satisfied with pink wines.

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