A Briton has been named the world's best sommelier after fighting off fierce competition from 50 others in a top class international face-off held in Chile.

Gerard Basset was crowned Thursday, winning the title in the World Sommelier Competition. France's David Biraud came in second and Sweden's Paolo Basso took third place.

Basset has been taking part in the competition since it was first held in 1983, and was a finalist five times previously. So far the European stranglehold on the title has been broken only once by a Japanese sommelier.

Chilean officials hailed the fact that they were able to host the competition, with contestants from 48 countries, so soon after the February 27 quake which badly damaged the Latin American nation's vineyards.

Seventy percent of the country's production is based in the area hit by the 8.8 quake just at the start of the harvest, and wine growers estimate that some 12.5 percent of production was destroyed.

"The fact that Chile has been able to organize this competition so soon after the earthquake indicates that it will be able to meet its commercial commitments," Rene Merino, head of the Chile's largest wine growers' association, Vinos de Chile, told AFP.

The quake killed 486 people and caused 30 billion dollars in damage.

"Holding the competition in Chile was a boost to the domestic wine industry, because these sommeliers will teach and promote our wines to the whole world," said Matias Ovalle, commercial manager of the Cousino Macul winery.

Chile is the world's ninth largest wine producer, well after France, Spain, the United States and Australia.