International comparison data suggest that wine may be more protective against coronary artery disease than beer or liquor. There are potentially protective antioxidants in wine, especially red wine. However, prospective population studies suggest that each beverage type may reduce coronary risk. The role of alcoholic beverage choice in coronary risk remains unresolved. We performed a prospective study of coronary disease hospitalizations among 128,934 adult members of a Northern California prepaid comprehensive health care program. Alcohol data were supplied at health examinations. Using Cox proportional-hazards models with 9 covariates, analyses were performed of the roles of each major beverage type (wine, beer, and liquor) and of drinking only table wine (red, white, or both). Generally, coronary risk traits were most favorable for wine drinkers and least favorable for liquor drinkers. Among 3,931 persons hospitalized for coronary disease, total alcohol drinking was inversely related to risk in both sexes. Uncontrolled for total alcohol, each beverage type showed evidence for coronary protection, weakest for liquor and strongest for beer in men and wine in women. Controlled for total alcohol, these relations were much reduced, and lost statistical significance except for beer in men and both red and white wine (combined) in all persons. We conclude that (1) drinking ethyl alcohol apparently protects against coronary disease, and (2) there may be minor additional benefits associated with drinking both beer and wine, but not especially red wine.