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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
13 Dec 2017

The port trade, and the Institute of Masters of Wine, lost one of its stalwarts on Monday when Bill Warre MW died at his home in Wimbledon at the age of 91. 

A member of one of the oldest port families, he saw his surname on countless bottles of his favourite wine, of which he was an acknowledged expert taster. With him goes a matchless repository of knowledge and experience. Round any table at the end of a meal where a port was served blind, Bill's thoughts were given respectful attention.

He was one of the first Masters of Wine, passing the exam in 1960. Until that year his family owned part of the port house that bears his name. Today it is owned and run by the Symington family, for whom Bill worked in an amiable fashion in the UK. With the recent loss of both Bill and Tim Stanley-Clarke, the Symingtons will presumably be more dependent than ever on the tasting memory of their retired winemaker Peter Symington, 74, father of current winemaker Charles. 

By the time I met Bill in the late 1970s, I found him one of the most welcoming members of the UK wine trade, always with a twinkle in his eye and a wry comment or two.


He not only knew a great deal about port, he was also an expert on the Peninsula War and published the diaries of his famous forebear, Oporto-born Lt General Sir William Warre, who, despite his youth, was so useful to the British army for his knowledge of Portugal and Portuguese.

For students of British history, William and Mary is an era in the early eighteenth century. For the port trade, William and Mary were the couple who made an annual trip to the Douro to visit their friends Elizabeth and the late Michael Symington, parents of current managing director Paul, at their house high above the vineyards.

Bill and Mary's daughter Philippa is married to Jim Eustace of Haynes Hanson & Clark.

Paul Symington adds Perhaps the best recent memories of Bill were the trips that he and my father would do after their retirement up to the remote areas on the Spanish frontier were they would explore all the little mountain villages near Almeida and Guarda where the Anglo-Portuguese army faced Napoleon's invasion. Dad and Bill knew the little villages, streams and bridges intimately and loved to visit the scene of the smaller, almost forgotten skirmishes, even more than the big battles. Port played a big role in these historical visits and I would be rung up at work and asked to send up more port as campaigning was tough..

He was a really lovely man with a real twinkle. Probably the last Warre in port, which is saying something considering the firm is the oldest established port company in Portugal of Anglo-Saxon origin…