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Scientists Discover 23 New Molecules in Red Wine

Previously undetected polyphenols may have health benefits

Esther Mobley
Posted: August 15, 2013

Red wine may have just gotten even healthier. Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC), in partnership with the University of Adelaide, recently discovered 23 molecules in wine heretofore unknown, and they could hold potential health benefits for wine drinkers.

These 23 new molecules belong to the family of stilbenoids, which are a type of polyphenol—the group of chemicals in wine that includes tannins, pigments and quercetin. Prior to the UBC study, the scientific community recognized 18 different stilbenoids, including resveratrol. “Stilbenoids are a natural defense of the [grapevine] to protect against fungal infection and the effects of rainy weather,” explained Cedric Saucier, head of UBC’s chemistry department and an author of the study. Found largely in grape skins, stilbenoids release antioxidants during vinification.

The team scanned concentrated extracts from Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, all from Okanagan Valley wineries and the 2010 vintage, then separated the compounds in order to examine them closely. They measured no fewer than 41 stilbenoids. The newly discovered 23 compounds appear in lower quantities than their already-known counterparts, which may be why scientists never found them before.

Multiple studies have confirmed the benefits of many polyphenols, so it’s probable that these new additions to the wine stilbenoid family will have positive health effects. But confirmation could take awhile: Once scientists validate the exact structure of these compounds, “we have to do a lot of biological tests,” said Saucier. “To be honest, the next steps have to be done by hundreds of researchers around the world.” And scientists are still working to understand how humans metabolize wine polyphenols and how the compounds interact once ingested.

“We’ve discovered new cousins of resveratrol,” Saucier said. “We hope that the antioxidants [found in these stilbenoids] will delay chronic diseases in humans: cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s [disease], cancer. That’s the hope.”

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