Bordeaux, Champagne, and everything in between.
Wherever you turn in France, you’ll find Gallic wine regions and vineyards, born of the county’s curvaceous landscape. Throughout the cities and towns, you’ll also find a charming variety of cocktails, ciders, and liqueurs, many created using regional ingredients. For those who prefer to keep things sober, there are also plenty of nonalcoholic yet distinctly French beverages to enjoy. Whether you’re an oenophile, a cocktail connoisseur, or someone who just wants to indulge on vacation, here’s everything you need to drink in France.
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You’d have to be absinthe-minded to not know the hallucinatory tales of the la fée verte that drove artists like Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway out of their heads. By 1910, as the distilled wormwood elixir became the muse of the literary bohemian crowd, the French were ordering more of une verte than wine. But by then, the green fairy became known as the green demon, seeing bans in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States. Five years later, it was illegal in France, too. It wasn’t until 2005 that the French were allowed to indulge again, when the European Union legalized a newly concocted absinthe with smaller amounts of the neurotoxin thujone. The correct way to drink absinthe? Place the special spoon with a sugar cube on it over a filled glass of absinthe and slowly drip water over the sugar until it has dissolved (four to six parts water per one part absinthe).
Burgundy and Bordeaux Red Wines
Choosing between these two iconic wine-making regions can make any wine aficionado pop their cork. Bordeaux produces four times as much vin as Burgundy and its wines are typically a blend of a variety of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. Meanwhile, Burgundy wine, known for its distinctive sloping bottle, uses the single varietal terroir, like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and has a more acidic or mineral taste than the polished Bordeaux.
Café au Lait
Sip, mmmm, repeat. This is how every morning in France should be spent, tasting glorious coffee roasts at a bustling local café. Coffee culture is pretty serious business in France, and it involves sitting or standing—not walking or driving. Most French drink un petit café (an espresso), but if that’s too strong, order a diluted version un café allongé (or un café serré if you need a jolt). A café crème is made with steamed milk, and you can sprinkle a little chocolate to make a cappuccino. A noisette is an espresso-size café crème. Lastly, an “American” is a larger cup of diluted coffee.
Calvados Apple Brandy
There are no wines in Normandy, but the region makes its mark in the spirits world with the apple-based Calvados, a fragrant oak-aged brandy. Some 200 apple varieties are grown in Normandy, and are then pressed and fermented to create dry cider, then distilled with eau de vie before being stored in oak casks for a minimum of two years; usually the cider is distilled twice. Like scotch, the longer it ages, the smoother (and more expensive) it gets. At 40% alcohol, Calvados can be consumed neat, on the rocks, or as the Automne en Normandie, a shaken cocktail that combines autumn apples with Calvados, lemon, and honey.
Want to drink the stars? In 1697 when Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk and cellar master, realized bubbles had been accidentally added to his wine, he cried, “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” And so, the méthode champenoise was born, meaning all Champagne is technically sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The secret? To actually be considered Champagne, it must come from the Champagne region in northeastern France. Typically made with Chardonnay (white grape), Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier (black grapes), some of the world’s most expensive bottles of sparkling wine are produced in the region. Order une coupe of one of the top-selling brands: Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Nicolas Feuillatte.
While chocolate was first introduced in France in 1615 for the marriage of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, it was Louis XV who popularized its consumption as a beverage. He would make hot chocolate for himself in his private apartments, and around the same time, chocolate-making machines appeared in Paris.
France’s most velvety cup of hot chocolate is at Angelina’s Tearoom, in the capital city steps from the Louvre. Since 1903, the upper echelon of Paris society, from Chanel to Proust, has been frequenting this spot where the “L’Africain” is sold: a secret combination of three cocoas from the Ivory Coast, Niger, and Ghana, topped with luscious fresh cream.
Brittany’s answer to mead, chouchen arrived with the Druids when they crossed the English Channel in 500 BC to reach the westernmost point of continental France. Back in the day, the highly alcoholic drink would literally knock you off your feet with its recipe of honeycombs crushed with bees and fermented venom (and the occasional bee stinger). It was also considered an aphrodisiac and an elixir d’immortalite. Today, the sweet aperitif is a less potent (still 14% alcohol), with honey fermented in water with freshly pressed apple juice to kick start fermentation. This delicious drink is traditionally served cold as an aperitif to highlight its refreshing qualities and its soft, earthy flavor.
You can’t get fresher lemonade than if you picked the lemon from the tree yourself. Order a satisfying citron pressé in a café and you’ll be served a tall glass filled with ice, the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon, a little pitcher of water, and a dish of sugar cubes so you can make it as sweet or as tart as you wish. It’s the ultimate refreshing summer drink in France.
Have you ever heard of the town St-Barthélemy-d’Anjou in western France? Well, if you’ve ever ordered a fancy margarita, you’ve had a taste of what the town is famous for: Cointreau, a premium-quality dry orange liqueur. Not to be confused with its lesser-quality cousin triple sec or the Cognac-bitter-orange hybrid Grand Marnier, this 80-proof flavored drink has been around since 1849, when the confectionary-making Cointreau brothers, Edouard-Jean and Adolphe, opened their distillery; today it’s exported to 200 countries. You can book a tour at the Cointreau Museum in Anjou, but don’t expect to uncover their secret peel recipe that has made this spirit popular for 170 years.
This rosy and refreshing aperitif, combining an inexpensive white wine called Aligote with a dose of creme de cassis (black-currant liqueur), was first served by its namesake Canon Felix Kir during World War II. A member of the French resistance, Kir stuck around after Nazi soldiers stormed Dijon in 1940; when they seized the Burgundy red wines, he mixed a dry white wine with cassis to create a Burgundy looking red. When he became mayor of Dijon, he began promoting the drink to boost local sales of cassis. Typically, Kir is four parts dry white wine and one part crème de cassis. Kir Royal takes it up a notch with Champagne instead of wine.
Loire and Alsace White Wines
As the second driest region in France, Alsace in the northeast produces three varieties of whites: a dry versatile Riesling, a goes-with-anything Pinot Gris, and, the most aromatic, Gewurztraminer, a sweeter wine best paired with cheese, foie gras, and spicy or sweet and sour food. The Loire Valley in the northwest has three sections, each producing different grape varieties for light-bodied white wines. The Upper Loire Sauvignon Blanc grape is known for its Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, while the white Chenin Blanc grape in the Central Loire makes a dry Savennières, Vouvray, or the dessert wine Coulée de Serrant. Pays Nantais, where the Loire River drains into the Atlantic Ocean, produces Muscadet, a perfect summer drink.
L’Orangerie Liqueur, Monaco
What else can you do with Monaco’s 600 organic bitter orange trees but make a refreshing liqueur? Young food trader Philip Culazzo had the idea in 2017 to bottle the first premium bitter orange liqueur (30% alcohol) in his Monaco distillery. Try the Monaco Spritz, L’Orangerie, topped up with Prosecco and orange zest, or pick up a retro-designed three-miniature-gift-pack (50 ml) from the atelier as a souvenir.
What could be more provençal than sitting at Les Deux Garçons in Aix-en-Provence sipping a pastis? The French put back on average two liters a day of the chalky-light amber, anise-flavored spirit, which is served on ice with a carafe of cold water on the side. After the ban of the hallucinogenic absinthe in 1915, pastis appeared like an aniseed cousin to the green fairy. But not all pastis are created equal. Ricard (now Ricard Pernod) was the first to produce the silky beverage. Newcomer Pastis des Creissauds takes 18 months to make each bottle and aromatizes with notes of fennel, aniseed, and essential oils. Enjoy one as an aperitif, before or after your dinner.
Provençal Rosé Wine
Provence is the world’s largest Rosé producer, using Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Syrah grapes, which help create that distinguished pale orange-tinted pink color.
According to Fortune, 2017 was the first year that Rosé outsold French red and white wines in the United States. Approximately one in five bottles of Rosé sold stateside now comes from Chateau d’Esclans, the French wine house behind high-end Whispering Angel. The Provençal winemaker is now launching a luxury wine just in time for summer, and while no one is whispering the name, the price is expected to reach $100 for a 750 ml bottle. While in Provence, you’ll find plenty of more affordable options to sample, and you can even visit a few vineyards specializing in Rosé production.
For most of us, the sweet lemon or orange soda known as Pschitt! is just plain fun to order because the P is silent and there’s always an exclamation point at the end. As one of France’s oldest soft drinks (it’s been around since 1954), the beverage company Perrier named it after the sound of a bottle opening.