Beneficial effects of wine on myocardial infarction mortality may be because of its vasodilatory properties. This study investigated whether the vasodilatory activity involves the endothelium and is specific for certain wines. Effects of different red and white wines and phenolic grape ingredients on vascular tension and cGMP content were studied in human coronary arteries and rat aortic rings in vitro. Only French and Italian red wines produced "en barrique" (Bordeaux, Châteauneuf du Pape, Barolo) (1:1,000, vol/vol), quercetin (1-100 microM), and tannic acid (1-100 microgram/ml) decreased tension of precontracted vascular rings and increased vascular cGMP content (both P < 0.001). The effects were abolished after endothelial denudation and reversible by nitric oxide synthase inhibition. Red wines not produced en barrique (Valpolicella, Ahr Spätburgunder), white wines (en barrique-produced Rioja, Chardonnay, Mosel-Riesling), and ethanol did not affect vascular tension or cGMP content. Thus endothelium-dependent vasodilatory effects appear to be specific for red barrique wines, possibly because of their high content of phenolic substances. Divergent effects of wines indicate that a general view on the effects of wine and alcoholic beverages is not warranted.