Wine polyphenols are considered to have beneficial effects on CHD and atherosclerosis. The consumption of red wine is high in Italy and France, approximately four times greater than that in the UK. This disparity in red wine consumption is thought to be the reason for the ‘French paradox’, where France was shown to have a coronary mortality rate close to that of China or Japan despite saturated fat intakes and cholesterol levels similar to the UK and USA. In the present review, we discuss the effects of wine and some of its polyphenol constituents on early pathological indicators of CHD such as plasma lipids, the endothelium and vasculature, platelets and serum antioxidant activity. The review also examines whether the polyphenols or the alcohol in wine is responsible for the effects on markers of heart disease. The present review concludes that red wine polyphenols have little effect on plasma lipid concentrations but wine consumption appears to reduce the susceptibility of LDL to oxidation and increase serum antioxidant capacity. However, these effects do depend on the amount of wine and period of supplementation. Authors who have examined specific polyphenols suggest that some phenolics appear to have endothelium-dependent vaso-relaxing abilities and some a positive effect on NO concentrations. Red wine phenolics also have an inhibitory effect on platelet aggregation, and individual phenolics also have a similar effect in vitro, although it should be noted that there are often discrepancies as large as ten-fold between the concentrations of polyphenolics tested in vitro and their measured levels in vivo. Evidence suggests that alcohol has a positive synergistic effect with wine polyphenols on some atherosclerotic risk factors. Thus evidence that wine drinking is beneficial for cardiac health continues to accumulate but more research is required to understand fully and exactly the functions of red wine polyphenols.