Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Fairy tales and Madeira

Some months ago Oxford University Press were kind enough to send me a copy of 'Victorian Fairy Tales' edited by Michael Newton, and a bit later The latest edition of Jack Zipes 'The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales'. It is actually my birthday next week, and no pressure family and friends but OUP have set the bar pretty high already (when it wasn't even my birthday). To say I was delighted to come home and find these is an understatement so I've been feeling increasingly guilty for not writing about them.

I've been dipping in and out of 'Victorian Fairy Tales' for months, but still have a few to read, and now would need to reacquaint myself with those read a while ago before I could say anything very sensible. I can unequivocally say that the books a delight though. E. Nesbit's 'Melisande' has made me determined to read more of her (I missed her children's books when I was young, and still only know 'The Railway Children' from the film). It's a gorgeous looking book to - perfect Christmas present material for any fairy tale lovers in your life.

The 'Companion to Fairy Tales' is equally fabulous. Opening it is to start on a reading adventure - following links and finding all sorts of unexpected delights. If anything it's an even better present for fairy tale lovers (if, that is, you know such a person who's had the patience to wait this long to get a copy). I haven't spent nearly enough time with it yet (even now when I know I have a longish list of things to do, and not much time to do them in, before bed it's hard to resist the urge to forget it all and read through the night) but I will. It's a book with a definite magic about it.

These are books which deserve something really special in the way of wine, and happily I have just the thing. There's a touch of magic about Madeira's to. It's an utterly counter intuitive wine. The two things wine usually needs to avoid are heat and oxygen. Madeira is aged in open vats in heated rooms - it means it will basically never change once it's been in the bottle, even if the bottle's been open some time - years even. Almost the first thing I was taught about it was that nothing under 15 years old is really worth drinking. This is debatable, you can still get an idea of how marvellous it is at the younger end, but.... A few years ago I was lucky enough to be at a tasting of a range of older wines. The star was a 1905 vintage - it was a 102 years old when I tried it and easily the most wonderful thing I've ever had. Vintages from the 1920's and '30's were just as exciting. It wasn't just the complexity, or depth and concentration of flavour, but also the freshness of these wines - and the sense of drinking history, and maybe even time itself.

Relatively speaking those very old vintages are not so expensive; £355 for something drinkable from 1912 seems reasonable (extravagant, but reasonable). There are plenty of really interesting bottles to be had for something between £50 - £100 which compares well with really good whisky. My bottle of 1973 is as old as I am and ageing rather better than me. It's a rare treat rather than an everyday drink and maybe something of an acquired taste (good Madeira deserves a bit of thought and effort - learn to love it!). It has a Victorian gravitas about it (possibly because that's when it was last really appreciated) and it would be an acceptably authentic drop to pair with - well I can't help but think of Trollope at a time like this - but it's the fairy tale quality of the wine that appeals to me so fairy tales it is.


  1. They look like lovely books, I'm so glad I saw this, they've been added to the want list right away. I, too, am reading Edith Nesbit and missed out on her books growing up, had only read two of her books; am in the process of reading 'Five Children and It.'

  2. They're great books! I think I saw a collection of her ghost stories somewhere, maybe grey ladies (though I might be getting mixed up with someone else) she's top of my list to hunt out in January

  3. The O/C Fairytales sounds fabulous -- I shall send out very strong hints to family. I associate Madeira with Madeira M'Dear, sung by a family friend (have you heard it? The perils of young ladies consuming strong drink)

  4. I haven't heard the song, and must look for it, sounds hilarious - my father uses the phrase so I'll ask him if he knows the source. The fairy tales are fabulous indeed.