Speaking of French Wine, Café, and Other 'Boissons' ('Drinks')

You'll need these words to buy, make, and enjoy your favorite drinks

'Un verre de vin blanc' (a glass of white wine)
'Un verre de vin blanc' (a glass of white wine). Tanes Jitsawart / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you want to purchase your favorite drink at a restaurant, bar, or supermarché ("supermarket"), you need to be able to say it in French. Here are some of France's most common drinks, with sound files, along with addenda vocabulary that describes aspects of the total experience.

First a word about the elephants in the room: French wine—among the best in the world—iconic spring and mineral waters, and excellent café ("coffee"), which are basically the holy trinity of French drinks.

All three are available at every corner bar and neighborhood brasserie (casual restaurant) or bistro (a small home-style restaurant) and have been the prevalent potables quenching the thirst and nourishing the spirit of the French for a long time—wine since Greek and Roman antiquity, spring water since then too, and coffee since the 1850s, first at cafés in the South of France, then in Paris.

Find Good Coffee, Water, and Wine on a Budget

You don't need to raid your savings, to purchase any of these. These days, you can walk into any French supermarket and buy beautiful coffee beans and high-end spring water such as Evian and Volvic or mineral water like Perrier to enjoy at home for bargain prices.

As for coffee, bear in mind that when you drink a café au lait (generally half warm milk, half coffee in a big cup) or un espresso (served black in a tiny cup), you're reaping the benefits of French inventions dating to the first percolation system in 1800, the first espresso-like machine using steam, the first Cona-type vacuum coffeemaker, the first pendulum siphon, and the first hydrostatic percolator, which would enable Italian inventors to create the modern espresso machine a century later.

As for wine, you can also walk into supermarkets and discover decent wine for about $10 or less, reputedly thanks to the French practice of not taxing wine as much as, say, the United States. You will pay much less than a restaurant would charge, although you can save there by ordering a carafe ("carafe") or pichet ("jug") of reasonable house wine.

Before you choose, read a good French wine primer and get to know the major French wine regions where famed châteaux often live cheek by jowl on relatively small plots alongside other esteemed wine producers.

The Great Wines of France

For oenophiles, the place to look for great wines is the winemaker itself or one of the country's grand wine shops, such as the legendary Legrand Filles et Fils, regarded as the grandfather of Parisian wine retailers. In wine shops, you might find a few bargains or middle-of-the-road types, but most important, you will find an astounding variety, maybe even a few in that rarified class of the wine world's most precious products. On a list of les vins les plus chers du monde ("the world's most expensive wines"), 13 of 20 are French wines; the most expensive as of mid-2017 was France's Romanée Conti Grand Cru, a pinot noir that sold for between $102 and $84,000 a bottle. Truth be told, though, wines at this level are frequently sold by private sellers or at auction and the price is negotiated.

Let's talk words. Below is the promised vocabulary that will help you order, buy, make, and enjoy the leading potables of France.

Les Boissons ("Drinks")

  • À votre santé ! / Santé ! > To your health! (a toast)
  • absinthe > absinthe (green high-alcohol, anise-flavored and, some say, inspirational liquor)
  •  alcool > alcohol
  • aller prendre un verre > to go out for a drink  
  • un apéritif, un apéro (informal) > aperitif (a before-meal drink or cocktail)
  • apéro provençal > cocktail hour in the South of France
  • avoir > to have 
  • avoir faim > to be hungry
  • avoir soif > to be thirsty
  • Beaujolais Nouveau > a Beaujolais red that is France's most popular young wine, fermented for a few weeks before being sold on the third Thursday of every November, known as Beaujolais Nouveau Day 
  • un ballon > a large wine glass
  • un bar > a bar
  • une bière > beer
  • boire > to drink
  • boire un coup, un verre, un ballon > to have a drink (alcoholic)
  • une boisson > a drink, beverage
  • boire quelque chose > to drink something (water, tea, coffee)   
  • une boisson fraîche > a cold drink  
  • une boisson chaude > a hot drink       
  • une boisson gazeuse > a soda, pop, soft drink
  • un bistro > a small restaurant emblematic of France, usually serving classic, home-style French dishes, along with good house wines, beer, coffee, and more. Paris-Match magazine once said: "Et le bistro c'est la France." ("The bistro is France.")
  • une brasserie > a casual neighborhood restaurant with beer (on tap), wine, espresso machines producing great coffee, and more 
  • un café > a coffee, espresso; an establishment with espresso machines making great coffee and light food such as ham or cheese sandwiches on crisp, buttered baguette 
  • une carafe d'eau > a jug of water
  • une carafe de vin > a carafe of wine; un pichet de vin > a jug of wine
  • chartreuse > famous green liqueur aged in the largest spirit cellar in the world
  • le champagne > Champagne (capitalized in English because it's named after the French region of Champagne)
  • un chocolat (chaud) > rich hot chocolate made with melted chocolate, not cocoa
  • un cidre > hard cider (don't expect fresh cider in France)
  • un citron pressé > fresh lemonade
  • un digestif > after-dinner drink, considered a digestive aid
  • du, de la, d l', des > partitive articles meaning "some"
  • l'eau (f) > water
  • l'eau de source > spring water
  • l'eau du robinet > tap water
  • l'eau en bouteille > bottled water
  • l'eau gazeuse > sparkling / mineral water
  • l'eau plate > still water
  • un express / un espresso > espresso
  • un gueule de bois > hangover
  • une gorgée > a mouthful; une petite gorgée > a sip
  • grand cru > wine from a French region’s highest-quality vineyard or area
  • grand cru classé > highest rated French wine producer, which has been officially registered as a top winemaking property
  • grand vin > the title that wineries give their best bottles 
  • un grog > a hot toddy of spiced rum, lemon, hot water, and honey or sugar that's good for whatever ails you in a Parisian winter. Alternately, a warm cognac with lemon and sugar.
  • une infusion > herbal tea
  • le jus > juice
  • le lait > milk
  • une limonade > citrus-flavored soda, such as Sprite or 7 Up
  • le vinothèque > wine collection, wine cabinet, wine library
  • magasin d'alimentation > grocery store
  • magasin de vin > wine shop
  • magasin de vins et spiritueux > liquor store
  • un pastis > anise-flavored apéritif
  • un pichet de vin > a jug of wine
  • premier cru > French wine that's a step below grand cru, but still from a top vineyard or area
  • prendre > to take
  • prendre l'apéritif > to have a drink before dinner
  • prendre un verre > to have a drink (alcoholic)
  • prendre l'apéritif > to have an aperitif
  • une pression > beer on tap
  • un supermarché > a supermarket 
  • le thé > tea
  • le thé glacé > iced tea
  • une tisane > herbal tea
  • un verre d'eau > a drink of water, a glass of water        
  • le vin > wine 
  • le vin français > French wine
  • vouloir > to want

Additional Resource

French quantities, containers,  and weights and measures