French Harvest Spritz

I discovered the Spritz many years ago when I went to espresso-making school in Trieste, Italy, and wondered what those big, icy orange drinks everyone was drinking at aperitivo hour were. I found out they were Spritzes, a drink also with roots in Austria, that was widely enjoyed by people in the Veneto region.

Since then, the Spritz has taken off, and gone in many directions, in a number of countries. Thanks to a successful marketing campaign, and a market that responds easily to trends, young people in France started drinking Spritzs, which was unexpected in a country where icy drinks aren’t that popular. (A friend went to a party where warm, room temperature Mojitos were served, and I have trouble getting the imagery of a tepid, minty-sweet drink out of my head.) The Spritz took a hit a few years back in the media, but that hasn’t seemed to dampen people’s enthusiasm for them. I’ll admit to being a fan of them as well, in all the various guises.

The Spritz is a drink that’s become open to a lot of variations but it’s generally an apéritif beverage (or bitters) mixed with something sparkling.

Pineau des Charentes is a full-in French apéritif and could not be made anywhere else but in France, more specifically in the Cognac region, and I wrote about it more extensively in Drinking French, where I also discussed several other classic French apéritifs. Said to have once been a mistake by a cognac-maker, who added grape juice to a barrel of cognac in error and decided to let it age and see what happened, months later he took a sip and voilà – Pineau des Charentes was born.

Nowadays the process is more standardized but is a blend of grape juice and cognac that’s left to age for a certain period of time in oak. The white version of Pineau des Charentes is aged less than the red, and the rosé version is aged even less. I like them all. But the white goes particularly well in this French Harvest Spritz, since the juiciness of the grapes in the French apéritif (technically called a mistelle) come through and the dash of extra cognac gives it a little extra oomph.

I tested this out with a variety of sparkling apple ciders, and it was interesting to see how one sparking cider can differ so much from another, even when mixed in a drink. French ciders (above) tend to be rounder and naturally sweeter than the ones I’ve had in the U.S., and the French ones come in brut and doux, with doux leaning toward the sweeter side. (I prefer brut but it’s simply a matter of taste.)

Basque ciders tend to be bone-dry and acidic, which sounds good on paper, but some people might find them more challenging. I like them all, although like wine, it’s hard to speak in absolutes as some are drier and some are sweeter. “Sweet” has become a bad word in the cocktail lexicon but if you’ve ever had Champagne with no dosage (the small amount of sugar added) to balance it, to me, it’s not as pleasing to drink.

I also tried this with American hard cider (above, right), which tend to lean more towards beer in terms of richness and frothiness, and just for fun, gave it a go with Martinelli’s sparking (non-alcoholic) cider which is very apple-y, and a bit too sweet for my taste. So when people ask me about substituting ingredients, as you can tell, I often try various ingredients to come to a conclusion before finalizing the recipe.

This French Harvest Spritz is a great fall drink and one we’ll be sipping regularly, and not just because I’ve got a few open bottles of cider on hand from trying so many when coming up with this recipe, to use up. It’s perfect for holiday entertaining when you want something festive and wintery but want to keep the ABV down. Feel free to garnish with any fresh fruits you like; apples, pears, Fuyu persimmons, figs, and grapes all make apropos apéritif garnishes.

Harvest Spritz

I tried this with a variety of sparklers, including American hard cider (too beer-like), Martinelli's sparkling apple juice (quite sweet), and Prosecco (very good, but not French). I was hoping to keep it as French as possible and I liked it best with French sparkling cider. So my recommendation would be to go with one of them. (The Basque one I show in the post cost $9 in the U.S. so you don't need to break the bank on a bottle.)
"Sweet" has become a bad word in the drinks world, and I'm not a fan of overly sweet drinks or cocktails either. So I prefer a brut, or dry variety of cider, as opposed to doux (sweet). The dash of lemon juice helps keep the balance in check, as does the extra cognac.
Course Drinks
Servings 1 drink
  • 2 1/2 ounces Pineau des Charentes blanc (white)
  • 1 teaspoon cognac or brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 ounces sparkling apple cider, (preferably French, see headnote)
  • sliced apples, grapes, pears, and/or figs, for garnish
  • Add the Pineau des Charentes, cognac or brandy and lemon juice to a goblet. Stir gently, then add the sparkling cider then a generous handful of ice.
  • Stir very gently, once or twice, just to mix the ingredients. Garnish with fresh fruit.
French Harvest Spritz

24 comments

  • KARIN PEREIRA
    December 7, 2021 9:14pm

    Totally appreciate the way you approach your recipes with the differences possible. I try most recipes at least once from scratch. Agree, I tend to go for a bit sweet in my drinks, not syrupy though. FYI, in the Frankfurt, Germany region, they have sort of an apple cider called : Applewoi, which tends to be awful for the first glass you have but becomes drinkable after a few. Watch your head the next morning!

  • Jennie
    December 7, 2021 9:19pm

    Just checking: when you say French sparkling cider, you mean alcoholic cider?

    • December 7, 2021 9:28pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, French sparkling cider generally has alcohol in it but the ABV is low, however there are some non-alcoholic ones available too. You could use whatever you’d like here.

  • Mrs. G
    December 7, 2021 9:25pm

    I hit the jackpot with guests visiting from the States! A bottle of Mount Gay Rum! Any rum recipes? And why is gingerbeer so difficult to find. Here in Uzes anyway. Love your stories!

    • December 8, 2021 4:03pm
      David Lebovitz

      I found Ginger Beer at my local Marché U supermarket. It’s become more available in France. I have a few recipes for rum-cocktails in my book Drinking French but you may want to also check some of the rum cocktails here.

  • Jane Davis
    December 7, 2021 9:41pm

    Sounds delicious! I loved the cider in Brittany but what I drank wasn’t sparkling. I’m sure I can find the Basque one. Please help with the pronunciation of “Charentes.” I sometimes get a bit twisted with Ch words! Merci!

    • December 7, 2021 10:58pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s pronounced similar to share-ont.

  • PAM-ANELA MESSENGER
    December 7, 2021 9:55pm

    I have been trying for several years to find Pineau des Charentes in the SF Bay area. Any ideas?

    • December 7, 2021 10:56pm
      David Lebovitz

      K & L Wines carries it.

    • Grace
      December 10, 2021 3:59am

      Try Bottles & Bitters in SSF

  • Sheila
    December 7, 2021 11:12pm

    This sounds lovely. I’ve been enjoying the Martinelle cocktail that you shared from Franky Marshall and it’s delightful. I’ll try this today with a US rosé hard cider I have on hand and if it’s a bust, I’ll look for some proper French cider…almost ready for a new bottle of Pineau des Charentes anyway

    • December 7, 2021 11:34pm
      David Lebovitz

      The Martinelle is lovely cocktail too – glad you like it!

  • Kim
    December 7, 2021 11:25pm

    Thank you for sharing your stories, and this lovely recipe.

  • Cyndy
    December 8, 2021 12:33am

    Would calvados work for the brandy? I always have it on hand (your fault due to the Monparnasse cocktail in Drinking French!).

    • December 8, 2021 2:40pm
      David Lebovitz

      Sure. Calvados is great!

  • December 8, 2021 6:56am

    I love the look of this. So Wintery and pretty. I will definitely try this. Exquisite.

  • Pam
    December 8, 2021 5:23pm

    Ooo, thank you for this recipe!! There’s a lovely cidery in the town where I live. They have at least 10 different ciders, all 100% apple (no other fruits); I will have to do my own testing to determine which of their ciders is best for this cocktail. Darn.

  • Marsha
    December 9, 2021 2:51pm

    That sounds delicious! I love Pineau des Charentes and cider. Our favourite sparkling cider here in Brittany is Coat-Albret. We usually get the Extra Brut or the Brut. At the Marché des Lices, you put a small deposit on the bottle unless you bring back your empties.

  • Colleen
    December 10, 2021 5:23pm

    David, I would like to let you know how happy you made one of the employees at my local liquor store when I asked about pineau. I said that I did not know much about it, and he asked me if I was going to use it for cocktails, and if I wanted the long or short story about it. Out of curiosity, and because he seemed so pleased to share, I asked for the long story. He suggested using it in Manhattans, adding an extra dash of bitters, or instead of an amaro as a digestif. It was one of those interactions that we no longer take for granted.
    Thank you for the lovely recipe as well. When I make it, it will remind me of the lovely people in my local shops who have made life more pleasant through these strange times.

    • December 11, 2021 8:43pm
      David Lebovitz

      Glad they were happy! It sounds like they enjoy introducing customers to new things which is great and yes, a good reminder of how to connect with people like the folks at your local spirits shop. I know from experience if I go to the same shop they get to know me and they guide me to things they think I might like. Enjoy the Pineau!

  • Jen S
    December 10, 2021 6:48pm

    Perfect timing for a cocktail utilizing (hard) cider! My husband and I brewed a very small batch of cider with a fresh juice cider procured from our local Pacific NW farmers’ market. After resting in bottles it’s ready to sample; though I think there isn’t much carbonation in this batch sadly. I think it’s worth a try at the very least. :)

  • Annette
    December 13, 2021 4:27pm

    Hello from Tampa, Florida!

    We have an old bottle of “Prunier” Pineau de Charentes which is a blonde color. Is this considered a “blanc” Pineau please? There aren’t any stores in our region which currently sell a blanc Pineau and we would very much like to enjoy drinking your Harvest Spritz. Can we use a Rouge Pineau instead since the store does sell a rouge?

    A votre santé David.

    • December 14, 2021 11:46am
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, the white pineau has a golden hue as it’s aged in oak. The red pineau is quite red. I’ve not tried this with red pineau des charentes but if you give it a go, let us know how it turns out!

  • swati singh
    December 14, 2021 8:15am

    There are lots of food bloggers like this but the best food blog “French Harvest Spritz” is yours. Much thanks for giving me a smart thought.

A

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