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Sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the region of Champagne, France. Strictly speaking, champagne means "French Champagne" coming from the Reims and Epernay districts east of Paris. California produces two types of sparkling wine. The bulk process type is basically glorified soda pop. The other, usually labeled methode champenoise or methode traditionelle, means the second fermentation process must take place in the same bottle it is served from. It is well worth the price to buy a sparkling wine using this method.

Although American sparkling wines don’t use the word “Champagne,” they still often use the French designations from dry to sweet; for example, brut is bone dry to off-dry, extra-sec is off-dry to medium dry, sec is medium dry, demi-sec is sweet and doux is dessert sweet, like Asti Spumante. For this appetizer, we are going to go with a brut sparkling wine.

Baked brie with crab and artichokes

1 medium shallot finely chopped

1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped

½ c. jarred artichoke hearts, drained

½ c. (packed) chopped spinach

1 lb. brie

2 Tbsp. garlic, minced

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

¼ c. brut sparking wine

⅔ c. heavy cream

3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely chopped

1 Tbsp. tarragon, finely chopped

1 Tbsp. shelled fresh crab meat

2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. Tabasco

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil and 11-inch gratin or other shallow baking dish.

Finely chop the shallots and onions. Rinse and finely chop the artichoke hearts. Squeeze dry and finely chop the spinach.

Discard rind from Brie and cut in to ¼-inch pieces.

In a heavy skillet, cook the shallots, onion and garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring until pale golden. Stir in artichoke and spinach next.

Add wine and cook for 3 minutes, slowly stirring all the while. Add the cream and simmer. Keep stirring.

Add Brie and stir until it just begins to melt. Remove from heat and stir herbs into the mixture.

Check the crab meat for broken shell fragments. Stir crab, mustard, Tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste. Then stir into the cheese mixture.

Spread evenly in your baking dish and bake in the middle of oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Serve with toast or crackers.

Pair this hearty appetizer with Lucas & Lewellen’s 2012 Santa Barbara County Sparkling Wine -- Brut "Extended Tirage." Louis Lucas’s choice sparkling of the vintage year, this one was aged for four years in the bottle in the methode traditionelle, from a co-fermented cuvee of 50% estate pinot noir and 50% chardonnay. A full-bodied sparkler with a rich complexity, fine mousse and ultrafine bubbles, this champagne boasts a brilliant bouquet of crisp apple and grapefruit flavors and a lasting finish of creamed buttery bread.

John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at


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