THE WINES OF ALSACE, like most European exports, have edged up in price over the last few months but still represent a good buy. Predominantly white and made to go with the varied dishes of northern France, these wines have a character and depth rarely appreciated in this country. Americans tend to think of them as sweet clones of German wines just across the border, when in fact the Alsatians are almost invariably bone dry and as different from the Piesporters and Johannisberg rieslings as white burgundies are from the wines of the Loire Valley.
Although made of riesling -- as well as gewurztraminer, pinot blanc, pinot gris, sylvaner and muscat -- most Alsace wines go well with spring and summer fare, and a few offer fine accompaniment for shellfish. Some Alsatians can be drunk as an aperitif. One is the '84 Josmeyer pinot blanc reserve, which has a freshness and crisp finish, costs only $5 and would be an ideal introduction both to pinot blanc and to Alsace. It also goes well with fish, chicken and veal.
Another versatile Alsatian is the '83 Clos St.-Landelin muscat, with a touch of earthiness and, again, good acid that precludes a cloying finish. Alsace is one of the few places that vinify muscat to complete dryness, making this one an excellent before-dinner wine or a complement for curries and other spicy dishes. It costs about $7.
Landelin's cremant d'Alsace, for about $9, represents riesling's answer to champagne: made by the same method, dry, with good fruit and a tiny bead. Cremant is less effervescent than other sparkling wines, another recommendation for serving it with food.
The '83 Schlumberger pinot gris has more weight than one might expect, and after another six months to a year in bottle will go very well with pa te' or game. Pinot gris used to be called tokay d'Alsace, although it bore no resemblance to the classic Hungarian tokay. Pinot gris remains a much underrated wine both here and in Europe and consequently is a bargain at $6.
The '83 Les Ecaillers of Le'on Beyer has what is known in the trade as "gout de petrol" -- literally, the smell of gasoline. That doesn't sound too appetizing, granted. If you think of it instead as a mineral quality also found in shellfish, you will understand why this extraordinary riesling -- not cheap at $8 -- beautifully washes down Maine oysters and maybe those from Chincoteague.
People tasting Alsace gewurztraminer for the first time are in for a stunning surprise. It is a highly fragrant, spicy wine that is more versatile than you might imagine, going with such varied food as foie gras and Stilton. The '83 reserve of Kuentz-Bas is a fresh wine for warm evenings, also $8.
Vendange tardive on gewurztraminer labels means late-picked grapes, but the wine made from them is not sweet, as late harvest wines from other regions are. Instead, vendange tardive gewurz is simply more concentrated. The '83 vintage was a very good one, but the cost of these wines makes them look more like burgundies, varying between $15 and $30.