Ready to wine down and chill? Then you’ve come to the right place. Return here each Friday to find a food & wine column that’s fun to read and suggests terrific wine-movie pairings that go with the theme. You never know what’s next for our  “Wine Down for the Weekend” column. Read on for an easy-to-prepare-at-home no-need-for-a-recipe fabulous dinner paired with an affordable wine and a viewing suggestion. We’re here to help you sit back, wine down and chill.

Our theme today is all things Venezuela, bold and beautiful. Yes, the shenanigans going on down there now are an absolute travesty. But, we’re here to enjoy their food and wine plus to learn about one of their great heroes, General Bolivar, the liberator. Perhaps Venezuela needs another hero like this? 

Tempranillo that’s light on tannins

wine down and chill CicuentaWhen you think about Tempranillos or Spanish wines, you immediately connect the thoughts with Rioja, it’s most treasured and well-known wine growing region. Cincuenta Ugarte Rioja, 2015 is a divine wine from that region. Roughly translated, it means “50 Island” but I think something is lost in translation here. It’s a brand name in Spanish sounds much more romantic so I encourage you to call it as it’s named.

This wine packs a punch! But the tannins don’t. I’m increasingly hearing my friends complaining about red wine “hangovers” and how they feel like the tannins make the wines go down kicking and screaming. Indeed, I’ve grabbed a Tums or two myself. However, this Cincuenta Ugarte Rioja, 2015 is different.

wine down and chill tempranillo grape leaves

First, it’s rated 93 points by Wine Enthusiast. Second, as mentioned, light on the tannins – but it has brilliantly bold flavors with a full body. Third, red currants, plums, and berries blast off without you even needing to bury your nose into the glass. Fourth, we talked about those tasty but tricky black-red Tempranillo grapes in a prior column: they are definitely worth the hassle. Fifth, the leaves of Tempranillo grape vines burn bright red in the autumn which is very much in keeping with our theme of all things bold – and Venezuelan. Sixth, the price point for this delectable wine is only $17. 

Arepas, of course!

Today’s featured food is the quintessential dish from Venezuela: arepas. I have to admit that I was intimidated about making these. Surely you needed decades of experience and dozens of ingredients to make these puffy cornbread patties? Apparently not. My arepas were anything but perfect but they certainly turned out much better than I anticipated. With a bit of practice, I could probably even serve my arepas to guests for a wine down and chill evening. And, given the number of delicious filling combinations that exist for arepas, it probably won’t be long before I’m serving them to others with all the practice I plan to be getting.

The recipe literally calls for equal parts maize flour and water, plus a little salt. Once kneaded together, form patties then quickly pan fry them in oil. Transfer patties to the oven to cook for a half hour or so and there you have it. That’s all there is to it! If you’re a glutton for punishment or simply fascinated by the culture as I am, here is a 1-2-3 step video on how to make the arepas at home for yourself. If you’re not, fret not my dear readers, I have your back with a ready-made option for arepas out-of-the-box.

Five ingredients and five steps

One, if you’re not a masochist and prefer to get right to your wine down, then pick up a box of Happi Foodi frozen ready-made mozzarella and jalapeño arepas from Target. Put them in the oven on a cookie sheet as they will need about 40 min to bake.

Two, slice up some plantains and lightly paint with oil and sea salt. Put them in the oven alongside the arepas.

Three, for your protein option, my suggestion today is pulled rotisserie chicken OR, my favorite, Old El Paso Green Chiles Refried Beans. They have just the right amount of spice to make things interesting!

Four, slice up a luscious, creamy avocado. TIP: if you knock out the little stem bit in the avocado and the hole that’s exposed is bright green, it’s not ready. If it’s shades of barky brown, then it is ready.

Five, dice up some cilantro and spread liberally. Slice open the arepas once they’ve had a few minutes to cool down and assemble your arepa-wich. If you’re feeling gutsy and indulge in all things ridic hot like my little sister, then drip on a little (or a lot) hot sauce.

Pour yourself a glass: the bigger the better to match these bold flavors. Now you’re ready to wine down and chill.

Bolivar, the man, the myth, the legend

Every country has its folklore, heroes, and legends. Venezuela is, of course, no different. At the height of General Bolivar’s power in the early 1800s, he ruled over a large swath of land from the Argentina border to the Caribbean Sea. As a colonel in the Insurgence War, he lost custody of the treasured San Felipe Castle and retreated to his own estate. However, things improved for him later when a country was named after him in 1825, The Republic of Bolivia. Ultimately, they did not end well for him as he was unable to preserve the Gran Columbia Union, resigned as its President in 1830 and was exiled to Europe. On the voyage there, he perished from the consumption, aka Tuberculosis.

Tonight on Netflix, Bolivar, the Man, the Legend will debut as Episode 1. It’s currently unclear how many episodes there are but they are labeling it as a mini-TV series. Hopefully, it’s well done with a balance of authenticity, intrigue, and entertainment but that’s TBD. If nothing else, Luis Gerónimo Abreu is enough of a reason to tune in!

General Bolivar had an equally wild and passionate personal life. He was renowned for taking multiple lovers, sometimes at once, and this made him popular with the ladies but not so endeared by the men in his political cabinet. As a passionate leader, he held a strong influence but also spurred many detractors. How’s that for a bold story and theme for a wine down and chill evening?

Aclamaciones!