WWC24 – L'appel du Vide, by Richard Lane

Jamet 2001, bottled and stored at the domaine, then labelled in 2024. Photo by Richard Lane

In this entry to our 2024 wine writing competition, wine lover Richard Lane writes about the unforgettable experience of tasting Jamet Côte Rôtie.

Richard Lane writes I live in London but have a job that takes me around Europe, often by road. In recent years this has increasingly fed my love of wine and the wine industry, not to mention the beautiful corners of Europe where you tend to find the more interesting wines. I try to visit producers as much as my schedule and their patience allows.  

L'appel du Vide

Jamet. The name had been swilling around my mind for weeks – ever since I’d emailed ahead, got hold of a PDF version of the wine list, and started to geekily concoct the vinous strategy for the first evening of our honeymoon. 

Believe me, this document was saturated with potentially outstanding options. Some were even fairly priced. Alliet, Bonneau, Dauvissat – all on the cards for us, just about. However, one entry may as well have been sprinkled with glitter: ‘D. Jean-Paul Jamet, Cote-Rotie, 2001’. Good lord, what a bottle. And, good lord, what a monumental ask. 

If only. A top-tier Jamet, from an excellent vintage, with nearly a quarter of a century of sleep behind it? In our normal lives, it’s unobtanium – a wine and a price-tag to be admiringly noted, but never, ever, not a million years, to be actually ordered. So I moved on, found a more appropriate target on this hefty list, and very much looked forward to drinking it on the night. Honeymoon or not, the Dom. Jamet was not even up for serious consideration.

At least, not right away. I’m convinced the process began early and subconsciously, but over the weeks, this magnificent bottle of northern Rhone somehow un-dismissed itself from consideration, until it eventually teetered into something approaching contention.   

Had it really? Honestly, I wasn’t sure. The French have this superb phrase, ‘l’appel du vide’. The literal translation is ‘the call of the void’. It refers to the inexplicable desire to engage in destructive behaviour. One apparently quite common manifestation is the urge of well-adjusted people to suddenly steer their car off the road. Of course, despite what’s unfolding in the brain, in the end the steering wheel in their hands never moves a millimetre. 

The wine world has its own version of l’appel du vide. Many of you will have experienced it. There you are, sommelier hanging over you expectantly. The name of some possibly life-changing bottle, demanding an unprecedented personal outlay, that you shouldn’t even consider ordering, is on your lips – and that’s where it remains. You play it sensibly, because there’s always another time. You don’t, without warning, buy the Ferrari.   

Early on the day itself I decided to moot the idea of the Jamet to my new wife, to gauge her reaction. It was an enjoyable mixture of amusement, outrage and pity. From this point, I trod carefully. I explained that this was a bit of a grail wine for me, ever since we’d shared a thimble-worth of that incredible old Jamet in the enomatic at The Sampler, don’t you remember? She said that the grail list was already too long, and no she didn’t remember the ‘enomatic’. I said yes, fine, it’s long, but I have never actually ordered anything from it – the grail list has hitherto been hypothetical, and remains entirely untapped. She said, albeit with an almost imperceptible grin, that it would be best for everyone if we keep it that way. I asked her if she’d forgotten that it was our honeymoon. She said she’d leave it up to me, but said it in a manner that suggested the matter was, as far as she was concerned, already closed.  

But now the maitre d’ is here, looming, dark eyebrows raised. I’m shaping up to tell him we’d like the Bonneau, please, right until the point that I open my mouth and the word ‘Jamet’ tumbles out. His eyebrows rise higher still. 

This is l’appel du vide, except I’ve actually gone and swerved off the road, and the car happens to be a Ferrari. I already feel sick. He asks which vintage, at which point I realise there’s still time to pull the handbrake on this whole circus because a far younger – and less expensive – vintage of Jamet Cote-Rotie also exists on the menu. But I don’t. Besides, great Rotie needs a decade, and the other bottle doesn’t have that. No going back. The 2001, thanks. 

It’s at this point that our maitre d’ unexpectedly breaks into a warm smile. He turns on his heels, leaves the room, and then we faintly catch a short, commanding, and ever so slightly excited ‘Jamet!’ from the wings. He has, I think, sensed that this is a big deal for us. It’s the first properly serious bottle we’ve ever ordered. And this is the moment I’ll never forget. ‘Jamet!’ – it breaks the tension, makes us laugh, and in truth, once the deed is actually done and this mad commitment made, the cost is forgotten and the pressure evaporates. You’re now free to enjoy yourself.

When the maitre d’ returns, I notice the bottle he’s holding has a brand new label. This is no mistake, though – the wine is ex-domaine, released from the Jamet cellars in the hills above Ampuis only earlier this year. What a result. Fortune clearly favours the reckless. And the wine? Once decanted, Jamet’s Cote-Rotie 2001 is elegant but rich, massively complicated, ever-evolving, long, honest. It’s like nothing else we’ve ever had. Honestly, I’d do it again.  

The above photo, of Jamet 2001, bottled and stored at the domaine, then labelled in 2024, is the author's own.