The finding is supported by evidence showing that for a given blood pressure, the risk of death from coronary artery disease is much higher in northern Europe and the United States than in Mediterranean countries, where wine is part of the traditional diet.
The researchers the Hospital Emile Roux, the Center for Preventive Medicine, Vandoeuvre-Les-Nancy, and the University Hospital in Bordeaux, used data from 36 583 healthy middle-aged men who had normal results on an electrocardiogram and were not taking drugs for cardiovascular disease risk factors.
The subjects were followed for between 13 and 21 years. Moderate wine drinkers - those who consumed up to 60g of alcohol each day but not beer - with raised blood pressure had significantly lower risks of death from all causes, they report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (80: 621-625).
Moderate drinkers with a systolic blood pressure of 158 had a 23 per cent lower risk of death than those who did not drink but with the same BP. Even for the highest quartile of blood pressure, moderate wine drinkers were protected from all-cause mortality.
No significant reduction in mortality was observed in those who consumed greater amounts of wine, or those who also consumed beer, they added.
Wine is known to have a higher polyphenol content than other alcoholic beverages. Polyphenols are thought to reduce markers of inflammation implicated in heart disease.
About two thirds of strokes and half the incidence of heart disease are attributable to raised blood pressure, according to the World Health Organisation. Worldwide, high blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.1 million deaths, about 13 per cent of the total and about 4.4 per cent of the total chronic disease burden.