Until recently, if you ordered a bottle of wine at most hotels in this country, you got either a pedestrian wine, an over-priced wine, or both.

More often than not, wine has been an afterthought at hotels, wine lists have been limited and prices have been way out of line. But not any more. The dismal wine situation at many U.S. hotels is changing for the better.

And, in a number of cases, it's changing in some surprising places, among them: Kansas City, Mo. The Vista International Hotel here has embarked on a large and ambitious California wine program, including reasonably priced wines, as well as a large Cruvinet featuring 16 separate bottles of wine. This is an innovative device that injects nitrogen -- rather than wine-degenerating oxygen -- into each wine bottle as wine is extracted, which allows customers to sample fine vintages by the glass. Waikiki. You'll find one of America's best wine lists at Bagwells Wine Bar at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki in Honolulu. Not only does the hotel offer one of the most extensive wine selections in America, but Hyatt has embarked on a substantial wine appreciation program.

The hotel has created Bagwells 2424 Carat Gold Club, revolving around the appreciation of wine. Each month, club members are invited to special wine dinners, events where the hotel hosts such noted wine makers as Mike Grgich (Grgich-Hills), Sam Sebastiani (Sebastiani Vineyards) and Legh Knowles of Beaulieu Vineyard.

In addition, the club sponsors other wine-related functions -- coupling wines to Oriental cuisine or a French Chardonnay tasting to celebrate Bastille Day. And each month six bottles of the world's finest vintages are placed in the hotel's Cruvinet. "It's been a tremendous success," says spokeswoman Ruth Limtiaco. "Guests can -- and really do -- learn about wine." Monterey. The Monterey, Calif., Sheraton has a major wine operation geared to presenting the wines of Monterey County. In fact, the Wine Basket, a retail store located next to the Sheraton's restaurant, offers more than 125 different wines from Monterey County (representing 40 nearby wineries). Wine sales have zoomed. Houston. The Lancaster Hotel offers frequent programs that include displays of wine, tastings and wine seminars. The Lancaster also sells wine by the glass and offers at least 20 different wines at a time, ranging from a $2.50 Chardonnay to a $20 glass of 100-year-old Madeira.

If that isn't enough, the hotel's restaurant, Charley's 517, features a spectacular wine cellar, utilizing a 20,000-bottle inventory of some 1,000 different wine selections. San Francisco. At the Huntington Hotel, there's a good reason why there's such an extensive wine list. Proprietor John Cope knows his wines very well -- he once owned a Northern California vineyard.

Some overseas hotels have now amended their wine lists, partly because of the demand of their U.S. customers. And as hotel wine prices come down, wine consumption has soared at many hotels.

"But money has never been a problem with Americans who stay with us," says Heinz Rimann, director of Food and Beverage Operations at the Regent Hotel in Hong Kong. "At least now," he says, "they are ordering their wines intelligently." Recently, one American guest called room service and ordered a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild -- to accompany a cheeseburger.