Claire worked and wrote for Sight Seeker’s Delight for 7 years – read more here.
Cocktails and drinks to bring a Parisian touch to your holidays
Do you reminisce endlessly about your time in Paris? Are you looking to make your holiday celebrations a bit more chic? And dare I say… a bit more boozy?
Well, if the answer to any of those questions was yes, I am going to rock your world right now.
You’ll find details below on a slew of French drinks and cocktails. Traditional? Check. Historical? Also check. Fun and bubbly? Big check!
Scroll down for information and recipes on 9 French drinks that are sure to be a hit at any holiday party. There are some non-alcoholic drinks or versions below, by the way.
Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite French or Parisian drink that I’ve left out. (After a thorough taste-testing session, I just might add it!).
1. Soupe de Champagne
Good for: New Year’s Eve party when you don’t want to spend all your time making drinks
French ingredients: Champagne, Cointreau/Grand Marnier
Taste: Fresh, bright, fun
Champagne soup, you say?
It’s France, I say.
This isn’t a soup as you know soups to be – it’s really more of a punch. The name comes from the fact that the drink is served by ladle, out of a bowl.
Traditionally this recipe is measured out using the ladle. Ladle sizes will vary of course, but one that fits about 10cl (3.5 oz) of liquid is perfect.
The recipe below will make about 10 glasses. Beware: soupe de champagne is deceptively easy to drink.
Recipe – Soupe de Champagne
- 1 ladle lemon juice
- 1 ladle orange juice
- 1 ladle sugar (raw sugar if you have it)
- 1 ladle de https://www.cointreau.com/us/en/ Cointreau or http://fr.grand-marnier.com/ Grand Marnier (orange liqueurs)
- 1 bottle champagne
- In a big punch bowl, mix sugar and juices until sugar dissolves.
- Add the Cointreau or Grand Marnier and refrigerate until very cold (overnight even).
- Just before serving, pour in bottle of chilled champagne. Use a punch spoon/ladle to serve the champagne soup into glasses.
**Non-alcoholic version : substitute sparkling grape juice for champagne, omit the orange liqueur, cut sugar in half
2. King’s hot chocolate
Good for: warming up after a snowfall, holiday dessert
French ingredients: Literally the King’s recipe
Taste: Rich, velvety, divine
This is a recipe that has survived for centuries. Now tell me that’s not a line that will impress your friends.
Seriously. It was King Louis XV’s personal recipe. He loved the stuff. His recommendation was to make the hot chocolate the night before and let it rest – it made the flavor better, he said. That seems to contradict with the instruction to add the egg yolk only just before serving… he was a king, people. He had a way of making contradictions work!
Personally I think this works best with bittersweet or milk chocolate (but I have a serious sweet tooth). You should be able to use whatever chocolate you’d like.
I also think the taste is better if you use milk instead of water, but who am I to change the King’s recipe?
By the way, if you want to find out more about Louis XV (and the rest of the Louis, too), you’ll get a discount on this tour with promo code COCKTAIL!
Recipe – King Louis XV’s hot chocolate
- 1 bar high-quality chocolate
- 1 cup water
- ½ egg yolk
- Break the chocolate into chunks and put it in to a double boiler (or a glass bowl that will fit on top of a pot with an inch of water in it. Add the water to the chocolate.
- Bring the double boiler to a boil and stir the chocolate-water mixture until the chocolate melts.
- Add the ½ egg yolk and stir constantly for a 3-4 minutes to prevent curdling. Serve immediately.
3. Hot wine
Good for: cold weather, any holiday party
French ingredients: red wine
Taste: spicy, sweet, dry
Nothing means winter in France quite like the smell of vin chaud, or hot wine.
There was a concentration of mentions of ‘spiced wine’ from the 12th century in the Catalan and Languedoc regions, in the south of France. (Though spiced wine seems to have originated in the Roman Empire as early as the year 20 AD).
The French town of Montpellier was a reputed place to find spiced wine all the way back in the 13th century. It was so famous for the drink that even Henry III of England supplied his table with Montpellier spiced wine.
So, it’s an old, old traditional beverage. Each hot/spiced wine maker has their own version… and I’m giving you mine below!
Note that although the spices and sugar will alter the wine, don’t just assume you can put a total bottom-shelf wine in. However, there’s no need to pick a fabulous (and fabulously expensive) wine, either. Just make sure it’s a wine you would enjoy drinking regardless.
Psst… If you’re in Paris and want to know more about French food traditions (the good, the bad, AND the ugly), grab a discount on this Food tour with discount code COCKTAIL.
Recipe – hot wine
- 1 bottle red wine (Languedoc, Bordeaux, or Burgundy work well)
- 75g / heaping 1/3c sugar (up it to 100g / 1/2c if you like sweet)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 8-10 cloves
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 large orange
- Slice the orange in half. Squeeze half into a pot large enough for the wine. Slice the other half into rounds and place in the pot.
- Cover the orange juice and slices with the rest of the spices, and pour in the bottle of wine.
- Over medium-low heat, bring the wine to a simmer. Stir with a wooden spoon from time to time.
- Simmer for about 5 minutes, then serve.
**Non-alcoholic version: add to unsweetened apple juice instead of wine, cut sugar to 50g
4. The Saint-Germain
Good for: small parties, chic crowd
French ingredients: Champagne, Saint-Germain liqueur
Taste: sparkly, sophisticated
Saint-Germain is a liqueur made from elderflowers, which are small white blooms. They are gathered from the hillsides in the French Alps during a short four- to-six-week period in spring. The elderflowers are then bicycled (yes you read that correctly) to a collection depot where they’re crushed immediately, to preserve all that fresh-bloomy goodness.
Pretty snazzy stuff, huh.
That’s why it’s associated with France, even though the liqueur itself was in fact invented in the USA!
This simple Champagne cocktail will bring the perfect amount of je ne sais quoi to your holiday party.
Recipe – The Saint-Germain
- 3 oz champagne (brut is best)
- 2 oz Saint-Germain elderflower liqueur
- 3 oz sparkling water
- Fill a tall Collins glass with ice. Add Champagne first, then St-Germain, then sparkling water.
- Stir completely and garnish with a lemon twist
5. Toulouse Lautrec’s Earthquake
Good for: your daring friends, drinking slooooooowly,
French ingredients: Absinthe, Cognac
Taste: anise/black licorice, strong
According to popular legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, around 1792 (the exact date varies by account). Ordinaire’s recipe was passed on to the Henriod sisters of Couvet, who sold absinthe as a medicinal elixir.
This one’s a doozy. It’s not called the Tremblement de Terre for nothing.
But what else would you expect from Toulouse Lautrec? The famous French painter used to go to the Moulin Rouge with his hollowed-out cane filled to the brim with booze.
And that bohemian Montmartre artist period was one simply saturated with Absinthe…
The legend goes that Absinthe was created back in 1792 as an all-purpose remedy by French doctor Pierre Ordinare, who lived in Switzerland at the time. So yes, the hallucinogenic wormwood-filled drink was marketed as a medicinal elixir. Wonderful.
There’s no more wormwood and no more hallucinogenic properties to the Absinthe you can get your hands on these days. It’s recommended to use a lower-alcohol absinthe such as Pernod White Fairy… otherwise this drink gets a bit dangerous. It’s called the Earthquake, remember?
By the way… if you’re intrigued about Toulouse and the crazy bohemian ways of Paris’ Montmartre neighborhood, promo code COCKTAIL will get you a discount on this small group tour of Montmartre.
Recipe – Toulouse Lautrec’s Earthquake
- 2 1⁄2 oz. cognac
- 1⁄2 oz. absinthe
- Stir cognac and absinthe in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a lemon twist.
Good for: literally any festive occasion
French ingredients: Champagne, of course!
Taste: bubbly, fun, tart, fruity or creamy
It’s not just for putting into cocktails or “soup,” people.
Here’s a tip from a Parisian wine expert: champagne goes with everything. Serve it with appetizers, cheese, dessert, fish – you really don’t have to worry about “wine pairing” here.
And of course you can just pop open a bottle when the clock strikes midnight. No food necessary!
Big French Champagne houses are available worldwide: Dom Perrignon, Tattinger, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Ruinart. Here’s a brief explanation on what the descriptors mean:
- Brut – no more than 12g residual sugar per liter (sugar that wasn’t used in fermentation). This is the most common one you’ll find. It should taste pretty dry, but not overly so. This is my favorite kind, and I recommend it.
- Extra sec or Extra-dry – 12-17g residual sugar per liter. So it’s a bit sweeter than Brut, though not terribly noticeably so.
- Sec or Dry – 17-32g residual sugar per liter. It’s a deceptive name – this is definitely on the sweeter side!
- Demi-sec – 30-50g of residual sugar per liter… so it’s pretty sweet. If you tend to enjoy sweeter cocktails and haven’t had champagne before, try this on for size first!
- Doux – 50g or more residual sugar per liter. This is very sweet, people. Use it as a dessert wine only, or perhaps to sweeten up a cocktail!
- Ultra-brut or Extra-brut – no sugar added after fermentation. It’s pretty rare to see this, especially in North America. Personally it’s a bit much for me… but I know quite a few wine connoisseurs who say its the only Champagne they’ll drink. *cough cough* snobs *cough cough*.
Paris tip: In France, you can get a budget substitute called a crémant from any wine shop and nearly any grocery store. Crémant is sparkling white wine made from other regions besides Champagne. Crémant de Loire for example is literally right next door to Champagne, and is made in the same way… the only reason it can’t be called that is because of a little invisible border between regions. A very, very good crémant will run you around 20 euros.
A good bottle of Champagne is likely to be at least 3 times that price. A very good bottle will run you even more than that.
If you’re absolutely a wine connoisseur, will you be able to spot the difference between a Champagne and a crémant? You might, yes. For the rest of us, a crémant is a must-have budget option that you should definitely be aware of.
7. French 75
Good for: getting the party started
French ingredients: Champagne
Taste: herbal, bright, refreshing
This drink appeared after World War I… it’s supposed to feel like getting hit with a French 75mm field gun.
Spoiler: it doesn’t actually feel like that. Promise.
However, it is a pretty deceptively strong cocktail. It’s light in color and has a nice bright bubbly finish to it, but it does pack a pretty serious punch. That makes it perfect to start off your cozy holiday party.
Just a tip though, from experience (sadly): don’t drink them all night!
Recipe – French 75
- 2 oz gin
- 1 tsp simple syrup (you can substitute fine sugar dissolved in the lemon juice)
- 1 Tbsp (1/2 oz) lemon juice
- 5 oz Champagne (brut is best)
- Shake gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20-30 seconds.
- Strain into a Collins glass half filled with ice.
- Top off with champagne.
- Garnish with a lemon twist.
Good for: any occasion
French ingredients: wine. Duh.
Taste: pretty much anything, from earthy leather to flowers to lime zest… sky’s the limit with wine!
Though perhaps not as exciting as some of the cocktails above, wine has a central place in any French holiday celebration.
If you really know wine, you’ll be able to guess at certain aspects of a wine based on the region it comes from. However, as any good sommelier will tell you, wineries vary greatly on the quality and flavors of wine they produce, in any region. It’s not the most foolproof way of picking a good wine (or one you’ll like). So don’t worry if you haven’t memorized that French wine map just yet…
Many wines (especially in North America) will have descriptions on the label. This is often an easier and more sure way of grabbing a wine you’ll like… if you can wade your way through all those terms!
Below are some of the most common terms and what they actually mean…
Wine terms glossary
- Angular – acidic. You’ll feel its bite. Often refreshing.
- Austere – high acidity and very little fruit flavors.
- Balance – acid balances against sweetness, fruit against oak and tannin, alcohol against acid and flavor
- Body – how thin or thick the wine feels in your mouth. Heavy body means robust, rich feel – they have texture, tannin, and intensity (and usually higher alcohol levels). Light body means it sits in your mouth like a refreshing lemonade or iced tea… they can have a long aftertaste and tingle the tip of your tongue, but dont fill your mouth like whole milk does. Generally they have lower alcohol, tannin, and higher acidity than full bodied wines.
- Bouquet – wine’s smell.
- Bright – higher in acidity, will make your mouth water.
- Buttery – usually aged in oak, rich and flat. Hits mid-tongue almost like butter would, and has a smooth finish.
- Chewy tannins – dries out the inside of your mouth. Very dry.
- Complex – flavor will change from the moment it hits your tongue to the moment you swallow.
- Creamy – popular for white and sparkling wines, usually means it was fermented or aged in oak. Buttery, smooth, rich.
- Crisp – usually used to describe white wine. Simple, great in hot weather.
- Dry – low levels of residual sugar (it’s the opposite in Champagne).
- Dense – usually used to describe reds. Bold strong flavors.
- Earthy – green, sort of grassy finish on a wine.
- Elegant – usually used to describe older vintages with higher acid… usually wines that age well. Not fruity, not bold.
- Finish – flavor in your mouth after swallowing the wine, also describes the length of time the flavor sticks around. Smooth finish (also called round, lush, silky, opulent) could mean lasting tartness for acidic wines, smoky or dried-fruity for red wines. Spicy finish indicates almost a burning sensation on your tongue (think about eating horseradish or wasabi)… but in a good way. Bitter finish is an astringent feeling, like scraping the inside of your mouth (this is an amazing trait to pair with rich fatty foods!).
- Fruit – this doesn’t mean the wine is sweeter, just that it is bursting with fruit smells. Other terms are jammy, sweet tannin, juicy, ripe, flamboyant.
- Oaked – in white wine this adds butter, vanilla, maybe coconut. In red wine usually refers to flavors of baking spices and vanilla.
- Opulent – rich, smooth, bold.
- Refined – usually used when describing tannins – less is more.
- Savory – opposite of fruity, but can be tart (imagine lime, cranberry). Other terms are earthy, rustic, old world, dry, elegant, closed, vegetal, stemmy.
- Silky – the red wine equivalent to creamy in white wines.
- Steely – higher acid, feels sharp in the mouth.
- Structured – high tannin and acid. Best to let this wine breathe (a lot) before drinking.
- Toasty – usually aged in oak, slightly burnt caramel taste on finish.
- Unctuous – a bit oily feeling on the tongue.
- Velvety – lush, smooth, silky.
9. French connection
Good for: nightcap, cozy romantic moment in front of the fire
French ingredients: Cognac
Taste: rich, velvety, sweet
The origin of this little drink is apparently draped in mystery. Some say the name comes from the fact that the drink started out being a combination of Cognac from France and Disaronno (amaretto liqueur) from Italy.
The Cognac adds some warmth – heat, really! – to the chilled drink, and the amaretto’s sweetness offsets this bite. Since there are only two ingredients, go for higher quality if you can, and to add a bit of elegance.
This is a pretty strong drink (the only dilution comes from the ice melting), and is delicious… so handle with care.
If you want to go full on France (and I DO recommend it!), I advise you to make a variation of this drink using Grand Marnier (orange liqueur made using cognac) instead of the amaretto. This variation of the French Connection is also called The Beautiful. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Recipe – French Connection (original)
- 1 1/2 oz French Cognac (like Courvoisier, Rémy Martin, Martell)
- 3/4 ounce amaretto (like Disaronno)
- Pour cognac and amaretto into an old fashioned glass with a couple cubes of ice.
- Give a quick stir and serve.
3 thoughts on “French holiday drink guide: 9 festive options to try this year”
Thank you, a fabulous guide for producing these great drinks at home.
It’s our pleasure! We are so happy you enjoyed it 🙂