Q: I love Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, but I'm trying to choose wines high in polyphenols like ellagic acid and resveratrol. Which wines have the most health benefits?—Cherie, Charleston, S.C.
A: Before we get into the subject of potentially heart-healthy polyphenols in wine, it's important to recognize that wine is not a "health drink" and any possible benefits should be seen purely as an added bonus. Furthermore, in studies that have found links between wine consumption and reduced disease risk or other benefits, those correlate with light to moderate consumption, typically defined as around 1 drink a day for women and up to 2 for men.
Ellagic acid is a polyphenol found in red grapes and wine and which has been shown to have some protective properties, but there's very little data on its concentration levels in wine. Muscadine, a native North American grape variety, has been found to be particularly high in polyphenols, including both ellagic acid and resveratrol, but you're unlikely to find many Muscadines on the shelves of your local wine shop.
We do know that some wines are generally higher in healthy polyphenols than others, and resveratrol has been a much more heavily researched polyphenol than ellagic acid, so we have more information about where it's abundant. It's thought that thick-skinned red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon tend to have higher concentrations of polyphenols, although the thinner-skinned Pinot Noir grape has also been found to be high in resveratrol. Tannic red wines that are dark in color have been shown to be naturally higher in polyphenols. But polyphenol levels are also influenced by climate, ripeness levels and even winemaking techniques. Age can also play a factor, as polyphenol concentrations can fall as wine ages. In short, there are too many variables, and too much uncertainty on how all these polyphenols work together to produce potential benefits, to suggest one type of wine is better for you than another. Enjoy your Montepulciano d'Abruzzo responsibly, and consult your physician on how best to incorporate wine into a healthy lifestyle.