Wine has been part of human culture for 6,000 years, serving dietary and socio-religious functions. Its production takes place on every continent, and its chemical composition is profoundly influenced by enological techniques, the grape cultivar from which it originates, and climatic factors. In addition to ethanol, which in moderate consumption can reduce mortality from coronary heart disease by increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and inhibiting platelet aggregation, wine (especially red wine) contains a range of polyphenols that have desirable biological properties. These include the phenolic acids (p-coumaric, cinnamic, caffeic, gentisic, ferulic, and vanillic acids), trihydroxy stilbenes (resveratrol and polydatin), and flavonoids (catechin, epicatechin, and quercetin). They are synthesized by a common pathway from phenylalanine involving polyketide condensation reactions. Metabolic regulation is provided by competition between resveratrol synthase and chalcone synthase for a common precursor pool of acyl-CoA derivatives. Polymeric aggregation gives rise, in turn to the viniferins (potent antifungal agents) and procyanidins (strong antioxidants that also inhibit platelet aggregation). The antioxidant effects of red wine and of its major polyphenols have been demonstrated in many experimental systems spanning the range from in vitro studies (human low-density lipoprotein, liposomes, macrophages, cultured cells) to investigations in healthy human subjects. Several of these compounds (notably catechin, quercetin, and resveratrol) promote nitric oxide production by vascular endothelium; inhibit the synthesis of thromboxane in platelets and leukotriene in neutrophils, modulate the synthesis and secretion of lipoproteins in whole animals and human cell lines, and arrest tumour growth as well as inhibit carcinogenesis in different experimental models. Target mechanisms to account for these effects include inhibition of phospholipase A2 and cyclo-oxygenase, inhibition of phosphodiesterase with increase in cyclic nucleotide concentrations, and inhibition of several protein kinases involved in cell signalling. Although their bioavailability remains to be fully established, red wine provides a more favourable milieu than fruits and vegetables, their other dietary source in humans.