It's expected to be one of Parliament Hill's biggest Canada Day celebrations ever. And why not? The stars next Friday will be two non-Canadians. The irony hardly bothers us, of course. It shouldn't. This country has carved an identity out of making others welcome, a perfect theme for July 1. Besides, this is Prince William and Princess Catharine we're talking about, two newlyweds who live in castles. That's fairy-tale stardom Hollywood can't match. And England dovetails with the essence of Dominion Day, as it was once called.
I just wish the regal couple didn't have to spend so much time in the company of people in suits. I'd like to show them my Canada, and my Canada includes soiled-shirt farmers and rubber-boot artisans who make wine, spirits and beer.
I'd start them off on Vancouver Island for a visit to the splendid little Victoria Gin distillery on a pastoral country road just outside British Columbia's capital. Royals like their gin, lord knows, and Victoria Gin is superb, with a prominent note of star anise and delectably viscous texture. You can find it in most provinces for about $50. At the very least, Will and Kate might be moved by the label's photographic tribute to Will's ancestor, Queen Victoria.
Then I'd take them to the magnificent Okanagan Valley for a picnic among the vines and regale them with tales of grape pickers having to compete with black bears for the best fruit at harvest time. How's that for a quintessential Canadian wine-country vignette? We'd later stop for a sip of riesling in Niagara, where I'd remind Prince William and his bride that Queen Victoria helped popularize the term hoch as a synonym for German wine in England following her visit to Hochheim in the heart of German riesling country. Later, I'd show them a fine microbrewery, like King in Nobleton, Ont., in part because it's got a royal title in its name and in part because I like the image of Kate chugging back a frothy cold one.
Finally, I'd escort them to Nova Scotia for some of excellent sparkling wine at L'Acadie Vineyards or Benjamin Bridge. Because newlyweds deserve bubbly.
Moon Curser Afraid of the Dark 2010 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $22
Moon Curser Vineyards is the new name of the former Twisted Tree, a superb winery in the south Okanagan. Afraid of the Dark is a white, Rhône Valley-style blend of viognier, roussanne and marsanne. There's no viognier bitterness here. It's a blast of subtly sweet peach-apricot fruit with floral overtones. Unoaked and fresh, it's medium-bodied with crisp acidity. Very versatile for food and especially suitable for chicken. Get it through www.mooncurser.com.
CedarCreek Pinot Gris 2010 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.90
CedarCreek in the north Okanagan, like many of its neighbours, had to erect bear-proof fencing. The awesome sight of blackberry thieves among the vines in British Columbia is a sure signal that the grapes are sweet enough to harvest. This white, which contains 12-per-cent chardonnay, is silky and big on peach, with delectable acidity that keeps it refreshingly dry on the finish. Great for a variety of dishes. Get it through www.cedarcreek.bc.ca.
Joie Farm A Noble Blend 2010 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $23.90
Based on the classic blends of Alsace, it's a mix of gewürztraminer, riesling, pinot auxerrois and pinot gris. Medium-bodied and compellingly Alsatian in style, it shows lychee, grapefruit and a touch of spice, with lively acidity to balance the considerable fruit flavour. Try it with Alsatian-style onion tart or lightly spicy Asian fare.
Staff Robert's Block Riesling 2009 (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $20.95
Skilled winemaker Sue-Ann Staff helped build Pillitteri Estates's reputation and now crafts the wines at the excellent Megalomaniac. This is from her new personal label and it's a winner. Light-medium-bodied and brimming with orchard fruit, it shows a hint of classic riesling minerals. Pair it with fish of all kinds. Available through Vintages in Ontario.
Henry of Pelham Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Ontario)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $14.95
Soft and balanced, with plump tropical-citrus fruit and subtle herbs. It's similar in style to South African sauvignon blanc. Match it with shellfish or salads.
Jackson-Triggs Entourage Silver Series Brut Methode Classique 2006 (Ontario)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $22.95
This is serious bubbly for the money, with a rich, sweet lemon core and nuances of bread, honey and nuts. Released Saturday through Vintages stores in Ontario and available through www.jacksontriggswinery.com.
Great Lakes Brewery Crazy Canuck Pale Ale (Ontario)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $2.50/473 ml can
The name sounds like a frivolous novelty but the brew gets down to more serious than most Parliamentary debates. Rusty-amber in colour, it's robust and very bitter, with an intriguingly earthy character and grainy depth.
King Vienna Lager (Ontario)
SCORE: 89 $12.95/6 pack
A king for a prince, it's robust for a lager, fruity, malty and dry, with a slightly creamy effervescence and note of invigorating bitterness.
Molson Canadian Sublime (Nationwide)
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $11.50/6 pack
From the iconic name behind the "I Am Canadian" ads, this lime-flavoured beer gets it right, with a subtle citrus essence and a refreshing, shandy-like flavour. It's light, at just 3-per-cent alcohol, and just the thing for a sweaty day outdoors.
Barley Days Brewery Loyalist Lager (Ontario)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $12.85/6 pack
Loyalists stayed true to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War, so the name may amuse Prince William. I think he'd be honoured by the great flavour of this Ontario microbrew. Clean, crisp and light, it's very dry, with subtle fruitiness, a grain-like core, delicate bitterness and refreshing effervescence. Available at the brewery's retail store in Picton, Ont.