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Texas Winemaker Puts the Mad in Madeira

Wine experts have pretty much given up the annual tradition of naming the perfect wine for Thanksgiving, acknowledging the array of flavors on the table -- and diverse palates assembled around it -- mean a good case can be made for just about any varietal.

But if I was doing the beverage buying for a holiday feast, I'd be sure to pick up a bottle of Madeira, the fortified wine that was probably poured at some of the earliest Thanksgiving commemorations. Pumpkin pie's fine, but I'd rather end my meal with a selection of American-made soft cheeses and a warming glass of Madeira -- perhaps from Texas' own Haak Winery.

Haak's been bottling Madeira since 2006, an endeavor that's earned the winery countless awards in prestigious competitions. Haak will celebrate its Madeira this weekend at an annual celebration intended to educate prospective customers; owner Raymond Haak says many casual drinkers still aren't familiar with the wine Thomas Jefferson used to toast the Declaration of Independence.

Haak firmly believes Madeira's popularity has been stalled by policies he considers overly protectionist. Unless they're covered by a grandfather clause, as Haak Winery is, winemakers outside the Madeira Islands can't use the word Madeira on their labels. That's helped make Madeira a relative rarity in most U.S. wine shops and restaurants.

"I want all my colleagues to be able to make Madeira," says Haak, the state's only Madeira producer. "There's an old saying that if you have a store, and someone builds a store at the same red light, you're both going to do better."

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But what should New World makers call their Madeira-style product? Haak says the Tax and Trade Bureau hasn't been receptive to new formulations such as "Mad Era" and "My Deira," leaving domestic winemakers scrambling for a semantic solution.

Texas wine makers got around similar laws governing port by creating the Portejas name. Haak says he'd happily abandon his Madeira label if there was an available alternative.

"I'm 71-years old, and, you know, old people get crotchety," Haak says. "But I'm not a troublemaker. I just have strong opinions."

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