Phyllis Zouzounis had crafted Zinfandel for the 21st century — Both fruit-forward and balanced with the right amount of acidity and tannin, but still (thankfully) maintaining beloved Zinfandel notes, possessing qualities of bramble, spice, and jam that lovers of this varietal can’t get enough of. As a winemaker, hers is story of tenacity, beginning as a cellar worker at Dry Creek Vineyard in the late 1970s, where after seven years of “pulling hoses and cleaning the cellar,” she moved to position of Assistant Winemaker, a position she held for seven years. She was then Winemaker/General Manager at Mazzocco, a winery well-known for its production of oft-recognized Zinfandels, from 1993 to 2005. You can say she knows her terroir, having worked in Dry Creek Valley for over 30 years. And she knows Zinfandel, too. With Deux Amis (Two Friends), owned with business partner Jim Penpraze, she now crafts single vineyard Zinfandels from this region.
There are four Zinfandels available now with the Deux Amis label. One you will see in the super market. Her Sonoma County Zinfandel is distributed in five states. The other three are single-vineyard Zinfandels, each reaching 70 cases in production (The Sonoma County Zinfandel is a blend from the three single vineyards). Each of these wines has their own flavor profiles. Grown in different regions within Dry Creek Valley, they exhibit unique characteristics; a distinction of Zinfandel, as I find the varietal uniquely exhibits its terroir in many intoxicating ways. She uses American oak to barrel-age on all but one, saying America oak is aggressive enough for her style of wine, and she bottle ages for a year afterwards because she says her wines get better in the bottle. I visited her on Limerick Lane, a small wine road just south of Healdsburg, on the same stretch as Christopher Creek and not too far from Foppiano Winery off Old Redwood Highway. Her Zinfandels she was happy to pour. Here are her latest.
Halling Zinfandel is the lightest and most delicate of the three. After opening up, its true beauty shone through with strong notes of strawberry and red raspberry. Despite its delicacy, it had the distinction of bramble (which I characterize as an actual black berry bush), and further on the palate, strawberry jam. The finish was soft and luxurious.Perhaps it was the French oak it was barrel-aged in that added to the wine’s softness and subtleties, but still those distinct Zinfandel qualities were prominent and pronounced.
Shadick Zinfandel comes from upper Dry Creek Valley, near Pedroncelli Winery, from bench land, or hill side vineyards. It shows more concentrated flavors and I immediately thought of ribs as a good pairing companion. The distinction of this Zinfandel is its abundance of spice notes, like eucalypti and bay leaves, and then further on, revealing even more subtle spice aromas, like you’ve opened up several spice jars. Encased in a firm structure, American-oak aged, and with a full-mouth feel, it still retains a soft and smooth body.
The Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel is the deepest in color, reaching a dark garnet hue. As it opens up, it reveals qualities of dark chocolate and light syrup, which make quietly intone “Eureka!” Starting with notes of black berry and cherry, it moves to these heavier qualities of Zinfandel. Contained within a balanced and firm structure, it is the strogest of the three Zinfandels. The finish lingers with berry and spice, suppleness and roundness.
If you like Zinfandel, Zouzounis’ are the ones to taste and re-taste as they open up and display unique and beguiling characteristics. She aims for balance and structure, yet succeeds in retaining beloved Zinfandel qualities that showcases the region they are grown in. She is open Saturday, noon – 5, and has very accommodating appointment hours. Deux Amis Winery web page.