Bruno Paillard takes pride in lending his name to Champagne's newest house—and beating a tradition-bound system. Paillard was a 28-year-old wine broker in 1981, when he decided to make his own Champagnes. His main obstacle: The region's bureaucrats allocate grapes to producers based on their previous year's wine sales—no previous year, no grapes. But Paillard persisted and succeeded.

Today, Paillard makes taut, elegant, pure wines—a contrast to the big-flavored Champagnes that are so popular. "We want to highlight fruitiness rather than yeastiness and barrel toast," says Bruno's daughter Marie-Caroline Bakke-Paillard, who exports his wines to the United States. "The fruitiness is even reminiscent of California sparkling wines." With one difference: Paillard's are very dry, even by French standards, which means they are sometimes treated as aperitifs.

These Champagnes go very well with food, however, especially with dishes like this lemon confit chicken. With its exotic flavors, the recipe requires a wine like the Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Brut ($32)—one with the acidity and concentration to stand up to it, but without a range of competing tastes.

"The lemon flavor in this chicken is in the Champagne, too," Bakke-Paillard notes. "But more important is that the superfreshness of the Champagne echoes the lightness of the dish. Overall, you have an experience that is very refreshing." And very untraditional, in the best ways.

—Richard Nalley