Moderate consumption of red wine has been associated with beneficial effects on human health, and this has been attributed to the flavonoid content. Factors that influence the bioavailability of this group of polyphenolic compounds are therefore important. Using the rat cannulated everted jejunal sac technique, we have investigated the effect of alcohol on the intestinal absorption of quercetin and its 3-O-glucoside from red wine. Tissue preparations were incubated in whole or dealcoholised red wine, diluted 1 : 1 with Krebs buffer for 20 min at 37 degrees C, after which the mucosa was removed and processed for HPLC analysis. Tissues exposed to red wine had significantly higher amounts of both quercetin (x 3; P < 0.001) and quercetin-3-O-glucoside (x 1.5; P < 0.01) associated with them, compared with sacs incubated in the dealcoholised equivalent. In addition, both tamarixetin (T) and isorhamnetin (I), in the mucosal tissue from sacs exposed to the whole wine, were significantly elevated approximately two fold (P < 0.05; P < 0.01, respectively). Similar results were obtained when sacs were incubated in Krebs buffer containing a mixture of pure quercetin and quercetin-3-O-glucoside with or without alcohol, and, although effects on the apparent absorption of Q and Q-3-G were not so marked, concentrations of the metabolites quercetin-3-O-glucuronide and I were significantly increased by the presence of alcohol (P < 0.01 and P < 0.001, respectively). It is therefore plausible that the moderate alcohol content of red wine contributes to its beneficial health effects in humans by both increasing the absorption of quercetin and quercetin-3-O-glucoside and by channelling their metabolism towards O-methylation to yield compounds (T and I), which have potential protective effects against cancer and cardiovascular diseases.