Cardioprotective action of red wine was studied by preperfusing isolated rat hearts with ethanol-free red wine extract for 15 min before subjecting them to 30 min of global ischemia followed by 2 h of reperfusion. Four other group of rats were studied under identical conditions, of which one served as control; one was treated with 10 microM trans-resveratrol (RVT), one of the major antioxidants found in red wines; another, with 0.07% ethanol; and another, with 0.07% ethanol plus 10 microM RVT. The results of our study demonstrated that both red wine extract and RVT were equally cardioprotective, as evidenced by their abilities to improve postischemic ventricular functions including developed pressure and aortic flow. Developed pressure values at 60 min after reperfusion were 81.8 +/- 1.2 and 68.8 +/- 4.1 mm Hg for the red wine extract and RVT groups, respectively, versus 49.7 +/- 2.7 mm Hg for the control group. These compounds also reduced myocardial infarct size compared with the control hearts (20.1 +/- 0.5% and 10.5 +/- 0.3% for red wine extract and RVT groups, respectively, vs. 29.9 +/- 3.1% for the control group). The ethanol-treated group displayed slightly better functional recovery, which deteriorated sharply toward the end of the reperfusion period, and the extent of infarction was comparable to that of the control group (31.5 +/- 0.9%). In the ethanol plus RVT group, postischemic contractile function was significantly better than control, and infarct size also was reduced to 20.9 +/- 0.7%. The amount of malonaldehyde formation in the postischemic myocardium was reduced by red wine extract and RVT, indicating a reduction of oxidative stress developed in the ischemic reperfused myocardium. In vitro studies revealed that red wine extract is a potent antioxidant as evidenced by its ability to scavenge peroxyl radical in vitro. Taken together, the results of our study indicate that red wines are cardioprotective by their ability to function as an in vivo antioxidant.