Driving out from Algiers no longer involves the sudden transition from big city to countryside. In the 15 years since independence Algiers gradually has claimed increasing bits of the fertile fields of the Mitidja, the coastal malarial swamp that French settlers drained and turned into rich farming land in the 19th century.

Churches in the dozens of Mitidja villages have become mosques or offices for the National Liberation Front, the victor in the nearly eight-year war for independence, like many other single parties in the Third World, has now lapsed into a near moribund state.

The land is still rich - although not so rich now that the former hired hands have taken over from the highly merchanized French landowners and have tried to run things themselves.

LITTLE OF THE once full-bodied Algerian wide is now grown. Instead it's wheat and table grapes, part of a government policy of tearing up vineyards and making it harder for this officially Moslem nation to slake its thirst with alcohol.

It was bad enough, the local tipplers complained, when the government put new taxes on whisky and any other imported alcohol. Whisky now costs more than $80 a bottle in shops and nearly $11 a drink in bars.

But the overzealous taxmen also applied similar taxes on local wine. A bottle of ordinary table wine ended up costing four times as much as a three-course meal - much to the joy of the local breweries and soft-drink manufacturers.

Finally, after three months of public grousing, the tax was reduced. Wine bottles can now be purchased in shops for about $3.75, a welcome relief but still much more than the going price before the sudden burst of morality.