To assess the effect of red wine on atherosclerosis, New Zealand rabbits were given 1% cholesterol diet for 12 weeks and compared to animals that received the diet plus either red wine or nonalcoholic wine products (NAWP). Diet induced marked increases in total and LDL cholesterol; yet no significant changes in HDL and triglyceride concentrations occurred. In the control group, plaque area was 69 +/- 9% of the aortic surface, while in the wine and NAWP groups it was only 38 +/- 9 and 47 +/- 12%, respectively (P < 0.0001). The average intima/media thickness ratio was 0.60 +/- 0.2 in control animals, 0.14 +/- 0.09 in the wine group, and 0.39 +/- 0.19 in the NAWP group (P < 0.0001). No significant differences were noted in LDL oxidizability among treatments. Thus, both red wine and NAWP can prevent plaque formation in hypercholesterolemic rabbits despite significant increases in LDL. We speculate that anti-platelet effect, blockade of expression of endothelial cell adhesion molecules, and/or NO stimulation by red wine flavonoids are possible explanations.