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This $10 California riesling hits the mark

Firestone’s ’05 “Vineyard Select” bottling is a perfect match with Asian food.

The wine critic in me will look for just about any opportunity, any time, to taste something new, and won't hesitate to skew a meal toward a wine I want to try. And so it was, on a Sunday afternoon in the country, when we often just throw a few burgers on the grill, kick back and read the papers over a leisurely lunch with the kids. The only problem was, I wanted to try a couple of white wines, especially a California riesling that had come my way.

White wine and hamburgers? Now that doesn’t work. I had another idea — a simple Asian stir-fry, approval for which I won in a call home on the way to the market. The centerpiece was sliced chicken, with a couple of chopped green peppers, some bok choy, onions and minced fresh ginger, all of it tossed together in a wok over high heat with a special stir fry sauce sold by one of the local farms that specializes in Asian produce (Sang Lee Farms in Peconic, N.Y.).

While cooking, I poured myself a glass of sauvignon blanc from South Africa, which was enjoyable enough on its own, but, when paired with our Asian chicken dish, proved to be too dry and austere. It would have been perfect for the appetizer of baked clams we had the night before. For that, paradoxically, I had opened a bottle of Firestone's 2005 “Vineyard Select” Riesling from California's Central Coast, which wasn’t quite dry enough and was just okay with the clams.

With a half a bottle of the riesling left over, however, it found its element the next day with our stir-fried chicken. The reason was simple. Most rieslings have at least a little residual sugar, meaning a touch of sweetness, which makes them good matches with many Asian dishes and their full-flavored sauces and spices. They won’t be easily overpowered by the strong tastes of these foods.

With a suggested price of $10 (it’s been a while since we’ve come across a really good $10 wine), Firestone’s riesling is a bargain and has considerable dimension for the price. It’s a blend from riesling grapes grown in Firestone’s estate vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County and sourced, or purchased, fruit from the cooler Monterey County.

The result is an off-dry riesling with nice complexity and notes of pear, melon, banana and other tropical fruit and even a hint of black licorice. It also has a stony quality that is often found in rieslings, especially those from Germany, that provides a nice counterpoint to the fruit.

Beyond Asian foods it will also work well with grilled chicken, especially with sweet marinades, and will come in handy as an easy-to-drink and inexpensive picnic wine. With its 2005 Vineyard Select Riesling, Firestone hits the mark again with a very good, affordable wine.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch