For those who complain about the rapidly mounting cost of well known wine labels, be they of European or American origin, remember there is still a way to beat the racket. Jug wines may not do at a wedding, or for celebrations. However for casual, everyday consumption, with or without food, many of those on sale locally are outstanding values. For the past six years, according to my records, their cost is still running well below the accumulated inflation rate. Even so, while some people sing their praises, many more may be put off by their size compared to the usual .75 liter bottle.

Ease of handling is one thing those 1.5 liter jugs have going for them. However, don't be put off by a little extra weight in the shopping cart, or the problem of doing right with what's left. These 1.5 ersatz jugs don't offer nearly the same satisfaction or dollar saving as the real thing -- a 4-liter jug with 5.4 percent more wine than the gallon. Nor do the 3-liter jugs -- a gimmick for premium wineries to grab some of the jug market with containers looking somewhat like the real thing and priced about the same.

Seven or eight years ago practically all wine (expensive, complex ones in particular) needed special care once opened if not totally consumed. However, technology has come a long way in making wine inherently more stable, less affected by wide variations in temperatures and exposure to air. So both the routine for decanting a jug into more manageable containers and subsequent care of the wine are now much simpler.

The preferred container for decanting is a 1.75 liquor jug, plus two bottles of liter size with screw caps. My quick and easy method of sterilization is with vodka because of its neutral flavor. After a good shaking, the small quantity required can be switched from container to container.

In shopping for jug wines, while you are still limited to roughly four basic types of wine -- Rhine (sweetish), Chablis (relatively dry), Burgundy (lusty), and Chianti (less lusty), there are more brands available these days and more incentive to shop around to suit your specific taste, or change of mood. Of the 4-liter brands that seem to appear on a 3-to-4 week cycle in local advertisements are remarkably good prices are: Central's Bello Vino aroud $3.00, Petri at $3.65, Carlo Rossi at $3.95, Woodley's Friars Choice at $3.95, Cribari at $4.25, Sebastiani at $4.95 and C. K Mondavi at $4.95.

I find no fault with this pricing vis a vis relative quality. But measured against a casual drinker's potential enjoyment, there isn't much reason to go beyond Carlo Rossi or Friars Choice. And, take note that the sale price range per bottle of all the "real" jugs runs from 60 to 90 cents and the off-sale price is only slightly more, 80 cents to $1.10.

What you should remember when you make your "bargain" purchase is this: Next to an over-enthusiastic drinker, oxygen shortens the life of a wine faster than anything else. Air is the probelm -- in a big bottle partially empty there is a lot.

Aperitif wines such as port, sherry and vermouth can be exposed to air for some time without noticeable oxidation (maderization). And so, to a lesser extent, can heavily bodied reds and sweet dessert wines. Lighter wines are much more susceptible -- particularly whites which, not being fermented on skins, have less inherent protection for the ravages of air.

Since jug wine doesn't normally get the anti-oxidant treatment of their more expensive counterparts, greater use is made of additives. Formerly sulphur was the principal one. But sulphur gets to many people at relatively low levels, causing dryness in the mouth and throat of a headache next day, or both. However, with greater use of other alternatives, such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which are less strong, vintners can cut back on sulphur and end up with greatly improved stability.

Nevertheless, try to avoid turbulence when decanting. Siphoning would be ideal, but probably represents overkill. So, supporting your jug on a table and with bottle and funnel tipped as much as practical, "slide" your wine down the side, leaving about one inch of air space. Cap immediately and stash in a cool place, where it's good for a couple of months -- minimum -- without much change in quality.

With partially used bottles, decant them into half size, or use one of the best anti-oxidants in your own home -- the refrigerator. With any wine it is very effective -- but not without a minor problem: serving temperature. Current mythology is that with whites it doesn't matter. But many dry whites have very little character when served straight from the fridge, yet recover nicely with 10 to 15 minutes outside. (If you need convincing on the effect of over-cooling, try any sweet wine in the freezer for a while, and note how much dryer it then tastes.)

With reds, unless you are going to leave a partially used bottle standing for more than a week, forget the fridge. If it's a Burgundy type, a little oxidation will probably cut the sweetish overtone.