THE CHOICE of Georgetown's plush Four Seasons Hotel as the setting for the wine tasting was in keeping with the undeniably capitalistic flavor of the afternoon. All the same, it somehow seemed incongruous that the host was the socialist state of Yugoslavia (at least, to those who missed recent reports of the imperial grandeur in which the late Marshal Tito lived) and that, in the best tradition of the decadent West, she was trying to sell us something.
The question is: Will she succeed?
The tasting last week was but the first step in an ambitious Yugoslav effort to seize a succulent share of the burgeoning U.S. table-wine market. By next summer, some 300,000 gallons of Yugoslav wine -- three times last year's total -- will be sloshing across the Atlantic onto the shelves of wine stores across the country. And the Yugoslav's are convinced it's just the beginning.
"We know it's the right time," said Slobodan Zaric, special project director. "We have 15 wines completely ready for export to the U.S. We will have by next Christmas  some 25 total."
Most of it will be in the $3-4 category, an area the Yugoslavs believe will provide the greatest growth potential. Two will be in the $5-6 price range. The first wave of the new imports should be available by Nov. 15.
If all goes as planned, within the next five years the Yugoslavs say they'll be doing at least $15 million a year in business in America.
But the reaction of the handful of serious wine drinkers and wine merchants who attended indicates the Yugoslavs may have to make some revisions in their optimistic projections.
For, of the 12 wines -- five whites and seven reds -- on hand for sampling, two, perhaps three, have a shot at finding a home here. And all of those were reds.
The whites were almost uniformly watery and thin, perhaps victims of the Yugoslavs' own eagerness to try to tailor them to meet their perception of the American palate.
"We like much darker, yellow wines," said Zaric. "We drink a little bit older whites than Americans."
In any event, something -- whatever it might be -- was certainly lost, and nothing was gained. Almost all were bland and characterless. Only the Vrsacki Traminac '78, which hinted at crispness thanks to a tantalizing amount of acid and body, gave promise.
"I'd write off the white wines altogether," said Gary Guenther, director of the international chapter of Les Amis du Vin and one of the hard-core wine connoisseurs present. A white, the Zilavka '79 served with lunch, "was a classic Spanish white of 10 years ago: overripe and overwooded. The Spanish learned their lesson and have long since changed their style," he said.
Of the reds, three had potential: a Crnogorski Vranac '78, the last on the tasting table, and two served with lunch.
Most of those seriously sampling the tasting table wines were preparing to dismiss the entire line by the time they reached the Crnogorski. "Find anything interesting?" a merchant asked a companion at one point. "Not to drink," came the reply.
But the Crnogorski hinted at possibilities: though thin, it was well balanced.
Lunch brought out the kind of wines everybody was hoping to find.
The hands-down winner was the Dingac '78: elegant, good depth, good color. And, surprise, it actually reminded those tasting of something they were familiar with.
"It reminded me of some of the lighter Rhones, or maybe a Chianti, a little woody," said John Wilcox, a local connoisseur. "I think it could actually do with some aging. For $5-6 I think it's a pretty good investment. I'd probably lay it down for a year or 18 months."
Coming in second was the Tikveska Kratosija '78, a nice red with some spice.
Yet, with those few successes, it's obvious that the California growers need not feel threatened. Many Americans are used to the heavier California wines, and it's doubtful thay they would be willing to change just for these small Yugoslav offerings.
"I really felt sorry for them," said one afterwards. "They were so eager and earnest. You just wanted it all to be good."
All is not lost, however, as the reds showed. If the Yugoslavs have the capitalist's instincts for smelling out a potential market, chances are they'll have the entrepreneur's for changing what they're dooing poorly while emphasizing the good.