It may even have contributed to a decline in heart disease as the habit of wine drinking has become more popular, but three to five glasses of wine are well beyond recommended levels of sensible drinking.
Dr Morten Gronbaek, of the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen, says that in the last 15 years deaths from heart disease have declined by 30 per cent in Denmark, while alcohol intake has been stable.
"On the other hand, with the opening of the European market, drinking patterns have changed quite dramatically in favour of wine drinking. In 1975, wine contributed 17.3 per cent of total alcohol rising to 30.2 per cent in 1992, which, in accordance with our findings, may have contributed to the decline in death from coronary heart disease," he says.
The Danish survey is the first to discover positive effects of wine against the effects of drinking other forms of alcohol, namely beer and spirits. And it is the first to suggest that such a large amount of wine may be a good thing.
The study compared death rates in wine, beer, spirits drinkers and in non-drinkers. It found that those who drank three to five glasses of wine a day were half as likely to die from any cause as non-drinkers; that beer and spirit drinkers died at the same rate as non drinkers but that heavy spirit drinkers had an increased risk of death.
The good effect of wine still held when regular drinkers took beer and spirits as well, although heavy drinking of spirits increased the risk of death.
Other studies have shown that much smaller amounts of alcohol may be beneficial; others have found no benefit or that it can be positively harmful.
Dr Gronbaek, chief author of the study published in the British Medical Journal today, said they were now convinced that it is something in wine, not alcohol, which confers benefit. The study followed a population of 13,285 men and women aged 30 to 79, for 12 years. They answered questions on their drinking habits and all causes of death that occurred were noted.
What Danish doctors describe as "low to moderate" wine drinking is right on the limit. In the UK, the Department of Health recommends sensible drinking limits which are 21 units (glasses of wine)a week for men and 14 for women.
Dr Gronbaek suggests that chemicals in wine, including flavinoids and antioxidants and tannin in red wine may be important in protecting against heart disease and some cancers.Reuse content