Big, Beautiful Reds from Yakima Valley and Tasty, Meaty Fare (#WinePW)

We're getting to know Yakima Valley via three big, bold, delicious red wines from Pollard, JB Neufeld, and Sparkman Cellars paired with meaty pork, lamb, and beef dishes.


Note: The wines in this post were sent as samples. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.


During the winter months – even in comparatively mild California  – my cravings drift to meaty dishes and big reds. They’re kind of like the cozy-core of the food and wine and wine world. These combos just make me feel warm and snuggly inside, even though the dishes and wines might simultaneously be quite elegant.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying quite a few big reds from Washington in general. (While today’s wines are all samples, this stretches to my wine purchases as well.) For me, the wines strike a nice balance between the fruit-forward character of California’s wines and the earthiness of Old World wines. (Check out this post for comparisons at one table.) The wines tend to show lovely fruit along with brightness, elegance, and minerality. Also, I don’t mean to snub the state I call home and love dearly, but on the whole, I think Washington has us beat when it comes to value, at least when it comes to well-known red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s not to say that you can’t find good values from California, or that Washington wines are always inexpensive, but when it comes to these more famous grapes I think overall you tend to get a little more bang for the buck from the Washington versions.

Today we’re going to take a look at three wines and pairings from a specific subregion of Washington State, the Yakima Valley . . . and they all hit the spot dead on.

Yakima Valley

The Yakima Valley AVA is located in south-central Washington State, within the larger Columbia Valley. Yakima in turn includes the sub-appellations of Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, and Rattlesnake Hills. The region follows the Yakima River for 60 miles from the Union Gap just south of the city of Yakima until the river joins up with the larger Columbia River. The Cascade Mountains run along the western side of the mountains.

Map borrowed from

These mountains have an important role to play since they block clouds, creating a rain shadow for this side of the mountains, which as a result is MUCH drier than the other side, which is where you’ll find Seattle. Thanks to the rain shadow effect this area gets around 300 days of sunshine per year. The region only sees 7 to 8 inches of precipitation each year, which qualifies it as a desert, since by definition anything less than 10 falls into this category.

This region is a latitude 46°N which means it has long days during the growing season, resulting in even more sunshine hours. Of course, given that northern latitude also means that it get cool here, and temperatures drop at night, which helps to preserve acidity in the grapes. The result is a beautiful balance of fruit and freshness.  

Map borrowed from Yakima Valley Wine Tourism.

The soils in the region are also fascinating and important to the character of the wine. The landscape here was carved out by a combination of ancient volcanoes and floods. Volcanoes from both the east and west covered the region in a mixture of ash, basalt, and other volcanic sediments. The volcanic matter also rained down and mixed with the area’s rivers and lakes creating a unique alluvial-volcanic mixture which is called the Ellensburg Formation

On top of this, the Missoula floods swept through the area at the end of the last Ice Age, which mixed up the soil profile even more, bringing in elements from surrounding areas. As a result of all of these factors, the area’s soils are extremely complex and include granite and quartz stones, as well as silt, sand, quartz, and micas. Water drains through all of this very easily, so vines have to tap down pretty deep to reach water. As well, there isn’t much organic matter at all in the soils, which relieves a lot of disease pressure from the vines. They don’t see many of the pests that are common to vines all around the world, and even when they do, they’re much more manageable. As a result, vines here can be left to grow ungrafted, which is pretty special in the wine world. You can also probably imagine that this mix of elements also lends lots of minerality to the finished wines.

A wide variety of grapes, as well as other produce, are grown in the area. I received samples (all opinions are my own and no other compensation was received) to join my fellow Wine Pairing Weekend Bloggers (#WinePW) in exploring the region during Washington Wine Month. I then found I had recently tried another giving me a slate of three different red grapes from three producers. I can’t claim to have had enough wines from the region to generalize on the terroir signature too much, however, I seemed to pick up on some commonalities between the wines explored. I noticed more red fruit character than usual for the Cab and Syrah in today’s set of wines, as well as fennel-like or licorice notes throughout all the wines, and lots of minerality and acidity. Each of these wines also unfolded beautifully in the glass, evolving quite a bit over the course of the evening.

For the pairings, I asked the winemakers /owners from two of the wineries, JB Neufeld and Pollard, to share their favorite matches for their wines and experimented with those suggestions. We’d enjoyed the Syrah from Sparkman Cellars with a particularly good leftover makeover for a recipe I’ll be sharing on Now let’s get to know the wines.

JB Neufeld Ciel du Cheval Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2018 and Instant Pot Lamb Shanks

Price:  $43    |    Alcohol: 14.3%

JB Neufeld was created by husband and wife team Justin and Brooke Neufeld. They focus exclusively on Cabernet Sauvignon within the Yakima Valley AVA to showcase the diversity of the terroir found in the valley and the uniqueness of the place through their wines.  They make Cabs from several different sites and I tried their Ciel du Cheval Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2018, their first vintage from this site.

Tasting Notes: When we first poured the wine, it was all about the red fruit notes: red plums, strawberry, currants, plus a little black cherry. There were also notes of red flower petals and spice on the nose. Herbal notes showed up on the palate – Greg was tasting more mint, while I was getting more rosemary – along with white pepper and a hint of licorice. Darker fruits emerged over the course evening, and the wine began to show a more plush texture. It was a really bright cab with medium + acidity, body, and tannins.

  I reached out to Brooke and Justin about what they like pair with this wine and Brooke wrote back that she likes this wine with braised meats, particularly lamb shanks because it enhances the earthy flavors in the wine and complements the red fruit notes. She also mentioned that she’s a busy mom with three boys, so loves a meal she can prepare without too much stress. I think we can all get behind that! I decided to run with her suggestion and made lamb shanks. I’ll be sharing the recipe in another post, but it was a heavenly match! It hit that cozy vibe we were looking for perfectly. For a meatless pairing, she mentioned she'd be playing with this wine and vegetarian cassoulet.

You can find more details on the wine here.

Sparkman Cellars Darkness Syrah Yakima Valley 2017 with Steak, Mushroom, and Potato Casseroles

Price: $65    | Alcohol: 14.5%   

Our next wine, Sparkman Cellars Darkness Syrah Yakima Valley 2017, comes from another husband and wife team – Kelly and Chris Sparkman. They started their winery in 2004, and while their family (they have two girls,
Stella Mae and Ruby Leigh) and winery have grown quite a bit since their beginnings, they’ve remained family-owned and operated. The couple were the founding winemakers, however, they’ve since been joined by General Manager Bryan Keay and  Winemaker Linn Scott.

Both Kelly and Chris grew up in Tennessee, have lived and traveled around the world, and have backgrounds tied to the environment. Kelly has a degree in Wildlife Biology and worked with various wildlife preservation programs and as a veterinarian technician. Chris has a Master’s Degree in International Environmental Policy from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey and worked with marine wildlife in various capacities, as well as having served in the Peace Corps as an agroforester. As if that wasn’t enough, he also worked in hospitality for nearly 30 years working at some very impressive spot including in Todd English’s Olives in Washington D.C., Michael’s in Santa Monica, and Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. (I’m not sure how one even fits all of that into one lifetime!) They continue to try to support their community and causes that strike a chord with their family

The winery’s tagline is “Family. Good Livin’. Damn Fine Wine.” Good goals.

Tasting Notes: Aromas of bright blackberries, coffee, black licorice, smoke, and bramble all arose on the nose. Those blackberries returned on the palate, coming across as tart but ripe. Dark plums, white pepper, mocha, bacon drippings, star anise joined the flavor party. The wine showed smooth tannins, full body, medium + acidity.

Pairings: Their website recommends having this wine with goat cheese polenta with morel sherry vinaigrette or cassoulet with lots of duck and sausage. They also recommend pouring it while watching The Shining. Totally get that. We paired with individual Steak, Mushroom, and Potato Casseroles, which felt deliciously decadent. This was also a leftover makeover, and if I do say so, a particularly good one. MMM! You can find details on how to prepare this on

You can find more details on the wine here.

Pollard Merlot Yakima Valley 2017 with a Pork Showdown

Price: $26    | Alcohol: 14.1%

My final wine of the day is the Pollard Merlot Yakima Valley 2017. The wine comes from Robin Pollard, who once served as the executive director of the Washington State Wine Commission. She became a local coffee roaster (and Pollard still sells coffee)), but then returned to the wine industry with Pollard. She teamed up with her life partner, Chris Camarda of Andrew Will Cellars to create Pollard with fruit from Robin’s 10-acre estate vineyard located in the Upper Yakima Valley, purchased in 2014. The vineyard sits at an elevation of 1150 feet on a southwest-facing slope composed of silt-loam soils. It’s planted to half Cabernet Franc and one quarter each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. The first wine from this project was the Pollard Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015. 

Tasting Notes: When we first opened it, like the JB Neufeld Cab, the wine was showing all red fruit notes – red cherry, red plum, strawberries – along with rhubarb, fennel, and herbs. Once again, the dark fruit notes showed up with air, moving toward dark plums and Luxardo Maraschino cherries, along with dark chocolate, espresso, black licorice, and pencil lead, and a pinch of herbs and flower petals. The fruit became more velvety with air but always retained its brightness. The wine had a medium+ body, medium tannins, and medium + acid.

I have to say this wine wines the value award of the day. It’s a beautiful, complex, and tasty wine for the money. This is also the pairing recipe I’ll be sharing here today.

Pairings: I reached out to Robin Pollard for her pairing recommendations, and she shared the following thoughts:

I raise Berkshire pigs, treasured for their richly marbled meat.  A favorite dish of mine to pair with the Merlot is braised pork shoulder seasoned with kitchen herbs such as thyme and rosemary.  Throw some Yakima Valley apples into the pot and you have a delicious dinner for any occasion

We’re always fully on board with pork shoulder around here so I ordered some to match the wine. I accidentally ordered twice as much as I intended to and ended up with 10 pounds. Oops. We decided to have Pork-Off – a showdown with Greg and me each preparing half the pork. Mine followed Robin’s suggestions, while Greg decided to flavor his with gochujang, which has been a favorite around here recently. Having a lot of leftovers was not an issue either. Once shredded up, it freezes really well.

Both pork shoulders began the same way and then got their different flavorings and preparations halfway through. All of the meat was dry-brined the day before according to a version of the technique used in David Chang’s Bo Ssam recipe and cooked low and slow for six hours. Greg added “hats” of onion and mandarin to his, then basted on the gochujang sauce toward the end of cooking, and then broiled it to give more caramelization at the finish. He also brushed the pork with more gochujang once it was sliced/torn apart. He also made a rather complex but tasty green onion sauce to have alongside. I’ll drop his recipe for that at the end.

I was aiming at creating a one-pot meal with mine. I took the idea of using apples and herbs and then added more veggies and braising liquid for a complete meal that was savory with a slightly sweet tang. 


Both dishes were very tasty, but mine was definitely the better match with the wine. The gochujang was a little sweeter than my dish, and while it didn’t make a bad match, it did shut the fruit down a little bit. The fruit and other lighty sweet elements in my dish didn't give the wine much trouble and the fruit quality remained bright and plush.

Pork, braise
Servings: 6 to 8
By: Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Braised Pork with Herbs, Apples, and Root Vegetables

Braised Pork with Herbs, Apples, and Root Vegetables

Prep Time: 20 MinCooking Time: 6 HourTotal Time: 6 H & 20 M, Plus brining time


  • 3 to 5 pounds of pork
  • Pork brine
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, minced
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 apples, cubed (I didn’t bother peeling them, but feel to if you prefer)
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves
  • 3 to 4 rosemary sprigs
  • 3 to 4 thyme sprigs
  • 2 cups chicken stock, or as needed
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, divided
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp ketchup
  • Salt, as needed,
  • Pepper, as needed
For the Brine:
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup salt (kosher salt is recommended in the Bo Ssam recipe. I used a combo of sea salt and regular table salt.)
  • 7 tablespoons brown sugar


  1. Place the pork in a large, shallow bowl. Mix the sugars and 1 cup of the salt together in another bowl, then rub the mixture all over the meat. (Note: I don’t use the full amount on the pork. I make sure to coat it well and rub it in, and save the rest for another use.) Cover it with foil or plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
  2. When you're ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 300°F. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and brush any excess sugar mixture off the fat cap and discard any juices. Place the pork in a roasting pan (I used a 3-quart braising dish here) and set it in the oven and cook for approximately 3 hours.
  3. Halfway through cooking, add the vegetables, garlic, herbs, chicken stock, wine, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, plus a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Return the pan to the oven and continue to cook for another 2 and a half hours, periodically checking to make sure there is still liquid left in the pan, and add more chicken stock, wine, or water if necessary.
  4. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, ketchup, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. When the pork has about 30 minutes left to cook, remove it from the oven and brush on the ketchup mixture. Take the opportunity to taste and adjust the seasoning for the vegetables and the sauce. Return the pork to the oven and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
  5. Remove the pork from the oven. Test the vegetables to make sure they are tender. If they need to cook longer, or if the liquid needs to reduce, move the pork to a platter or cutting board and trend loosely, then move the vegetables to the stove-top and continue to cook at medium-high heat until they’re tender.
  6. Slice pork or shred pork and serve with the vegetables.
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @thesommstable on instagram and hashtag it #sommstable
Created using The Recipes Generator


Servings: About 2 cups
By: Greg Hudson

Greg’s Green Onion Sauce

Prep Time: 10 MinTotal Time: 10 Min


  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • 8 pepperoncini rings
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp doenjang (you could also substitute miso or salt to taste)
  • Splash of fish sauce
  • 1 mandarin orange
  • 3 Tbsp Greek yogurt


  1. Place all ingredients in the blender and mix until creamy. If the mixture is too thick, add a little water until the consistency is to your liking. Taste and adjust seasoning and flavors.
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @thesommstable on instagram and hashtag it #sommstable
Created using The Recipes Generator


The rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) blogging group is also exploring the Yakima Valley this month, hosted by Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles – check out here invitation post here. Be sure to check out the rest of the group's posts as well:


 Additional sources used for this post:

This post contains affiliate links, including these Amazon Associate links, from which I might receive a commission at no cost to you.



  1. Mouth is watering! I love your post and all the descriptions of the wine. Can't wait to track down some of those bottles.

  2. I am a fan of JBNeufield, and had a lovely chat with Justin on our last trip to Yakima.
    I am bowled over by Chris' history in hospitality! I will have to look up their wines. When it comes to Pollard, I thought she was an overachiever, coffee roasting and winemaking, then you add that she raises Berkshire pigs! She's quite the renaissance woman!
    This is a beautiful piece that really highlights the amazing people in this region. In addition you managed to pull off multiple mouth watering dishes! I need to head to the Nibbling Gypsy for the rest of the recipes.

    1. Thanks so much Robin. In learning about all of their histories, I was definitely left feeling like "What have I been doing with my time?!" They're all so impressive.

  3. wow! you were busy!!! love the orange/onion in order to braise. It all sounds incredible

  4. This makes me want to eat at your house! Love the way you've weaved together the family snapshots and the recommended pairings. Great article!

  5. Great profiles of the wineries, wines, and the people behind them! I love your pork shoulder cook off.

  6. The wines sound great Nicole, but your pork dish though. It looks amazing!

  7. Based on your tasting notes, the lamb was the perfect pairing with the Cab Sauv! Although I must say, each of your pairings sounds perfect for this cold wave we've had - glad it's over and we can move into spring!


Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!