THE EXCELLENCE of the wine list at the Chewton Glen hotel, near Bournemouth, and the expertise of Gerard Basset, its sommelier, are no secret. In 1992 Mr Basset won three prestigious prizes and last September he was runner-up at the wine waiters' world championship, held in Rio de Janeiro. However, with its latest award, the Trophee Pol Roger, Chewton Glen is confirmed as having the best wine list in Europe.

Every year, L'Association Francaise des Journalistes, Chroniqueurs, Ecrivains de la Vigne, du Vin et des Spiriteux (AFJEV for short) awards the trophy to the establishment offering the best wine list.

In previous years, this great honour has been conferred only on establishments in Paris and the French provinces, but now the Trophee had come to Hampshire. Thirty wine writers flew in from France to have lunch and make incomprehensible speeches. Naturally, they drank quantities of champagne, including magnums of Pol Roger's Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, 1985, although it was not really to their taste. 'Too old,' they chorused, 'too biscuity.'

Not content to rest on his laurels, Mr Basset shocked his fellow Frenchmen by serving a Tasmanian pinot noir, Pipers Brook Vineyard, 1991, with the pigeon de Norfolk roti. Despite an empassioned plea for tolerance from the enlightened sommelier, much Gallic tutting ensued. 'Too young,' they grumbled, 'too oaky.'

NO FRENCH wines, apart from champagne, will be served on St George's Day, next Friday, in Reims, when French culinary chauvinism will be under attack from Chefs Sans Frontieres, a group of half a dozen of the most accomplished chefs from the north of England who are flying in to cook a dinner to demonstrate the excellence of British food. Led by Iain Donald of the SAS (that's the airport catering service sponsoring the event, not the elite fighting force), each member of the team will be responsible for one course.

Paul Heathcote, whose restaurant in Longridge, Lancashire, is among the most successful in the north-west, will start with his patented black pudding, stuffed with sweetbreads and garnished with onion confit. Steven Kitchen, of the excellent Stanneylands restaurant in Wilmslow, Cheshire, will cook the fish: seared Hebridean scallops on a mousse of Finnan haddock and celeriac with a chive butter sauce.

Wales's only Michelin- starred chef, Chris Chown, of Plas Bodegroes, Pwllheli, will prepare his trademark rack of lamb with laverbread and leeks. Paul Reed, of the Arkle restaurant at the Chester Grosvenor hotel, will serve mini bread- and-butter puddings and apple fritters with honey ice-cream.

Nigel Haworth of Northcote Manor, near Blackburn, Lancashire, will provide the canapes - including tiny portions of fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, and baby Yorkshire puddings stuffed with beef carpaccio - and his own selection of British farmhouse cheeses. All this washed down with wines from Italy, Spain, California and South Africa.

PETER NOBLE was once Her Majesty's vintner, but for the past five years he and his wife, Penny Landeau, have been dedicated to educating the palates of ordinary people and teaching them about the pleasures of the grape. The couple set out to demystify the process of selecting wine with a series of blind tastings designed to teach the individual characteristics of the 11 classic grape varieties, five red and six white, that make up 80 per cent of the world's wine.

Knowing which grapes one likes best makes it easier to decide what style of wine one prefers, and to make the 'Grape Connection' by decoding the labels of wines that are classified by region rather than grape variety. If that sounds confusing, be reassured that it is not only simple, but also fun. Furthermore, having tested their system on more than 5,000 people who have attended their seminars, the Nobles have incorporated the sum of their wisdom into a book, How To Win The Wine Game (Vermilion, pounds 10.99).

THE competition in which readers were asked to identify the Gastropod's favourite cookery book and stood a chance of winning the nine volumes in the Macmillan Masterchef series provoked an unprecedented response - and every single entrant correctly identified the author, Michel Guerard. Sadly, half of you were tripped up by the reference to Cuisine Minceur, as if the Gastropod would endlessly refer to a book written for those who wish to lose weight.

In fact, the book the Gastropod finds invaluable for its simple descriptions of the principal methods of cookery contained in its first 100 pages is Guerard's Cuisine Gourmande. Among the dozens of readers who got the right answer, the lucky winner is Margaret Williams of London W1.

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