There was good news and bad news recently for Washingtonians interested in Rhone wines. Gerard Jaboulet, president of the respected French firm, Paul Jaboulet Aine, offered the good news: execllent quality and quantity in the 1979 vintage. "I like the vintage better than either 1978 or 1976," Jaboulet said. "It was a considerably larger harvest than '78, and we have been most pleased with the wines. The whites in '79 are better than in any year I can remember."

The bad news is the usual one for consumers these days: prices. White rises from the 1978 vintage to the 1979 are slight, running to less than 10 percent for the Jaboulet line, the increases from 1976 to 1978 (the latter wines just now appearing locally) are a thumping 30 to 40 percent, putting two of the premier wines, Hermitage "la Chapelle" and Cote Rotie "les Jumelles" perilously close to $20 per bottle.

Based on the 1979s presented by Jaboulet at a Washington tasting -- some of them barrel samples yet to be bottled -- consumers may well be tempted to scrimp in order to afford a few bottles. Particularly impressive among the reds were the Hermitage "La Chapelle" and the Cornas. My favorite white was the Hermitage "Le Chevalier de Sterimberg," closely followed by the Crozes-Hermitage "Mule Blanche."

With burgundies currently disappointing in both quality and price, a number of wine buyers are turning to wines of the Rhone. However, if prices continue to rise, that advantage will shortly be lost. And that's a pity because when properly aged, Rhones can be rich and elegant, rivaling the best from Burgundy and Bordeaux. Jaboulet admitted that he has often mistaken one of his old Cornas for a mature Pomerol.