Heart health secrets from the vine

It's no revelation that wine, beyond being a pleasure of the mind and palate, can be good for the body too. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew it; wine was often administered as a medical elixir for a myriad of illnesses and ailments, beyond being imbibed in social settings.

With American Heart Month underway, breaking down the benefits of the vine for the heart will help you understand why your passion for wine goes beyond emotion. Here's how it can help your health, with specific recommendations of the wines that target your heart health needs:

Lowers blood pressure:

Did you know that drier red wines like cabernet sauvignon offer high levels of antioxidants like resveratrol, which helps fight fat buildup in organs, and the compound quercetin, a blood pressure-lowering flavonoid? Studies showed drinking a little red wine every day lowered blood pressure in patients by several points in just four weeks.

Harvard studies have also shown that high blood pressure sufferers who drink antioxidant wines like cabernet are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack than nondrinkers.

The pour: Columbia Crest 2012 H3 Cabernet Sauvignon (Horse Heaven Hills, WA) $15. Powerful, and full of tannins and antioxidants, this black cherry- and black fruit-driven Washington red is the just what the doctor ordered for helping to keep blood pressure in check.

Increases good cholesterol:

Blood-cleaning wines like merlot increase your good cholesterol (HDL) which devours bad cholesterol (LDL) before it clogs you arteries. Studies in Denmark have shown that people who drank two glasses of merlot or similar wines every day for a month rose their HDL’s by 16 percent.

The pour: Indaba 2013 Merlot (Western Cape, South Africa) $12. Bathed in Africa's robust sunlight and packed with nutrients from the Cape's bio-rich soil, this red offers HDL-friendly character and exotic flavor without breaking the bank.

Lowers stress and increases sex drive:

In addition to its sultry flavor profile, pinot noir and wines like it have been found to reduce stress overall (which impacts blood pressure and heart health as well) and also boost your sex drive (also a heart healthy activity). Researchers at the University of Southern California found regular red wine sippers have higher levels of testosterone, which revs libido in both men and women. Blood flow also plays a part here, thanks to the wine...just use your imagination.

The pour: J. Lohr 2012 Estates Falcon Perch Pinot Noir (Monterey County, CA) $17. This fleshy red from cool-climate California vineyards has a pretty violet, rose and berry character, with all of the tannins,flavonoids and flavor to make your private wine tasting party a success.

All in one:

Wines from southern France are considered to be some of the most heart-healthy pours in the world. Highly powerful, tannic tannat, grown most notably in southern France and South America, could give you the most of all of the above heart benefits in one sip. Tannat is considered the most tannic of the red wines, and grape skin contact is key to the benefits above.

The pour: Chateau Peyros 2010 Tannat-Cabernet (Madiran, France) $14 Packed full of tannin and minerals, and grown in the sunny climes of southwestern France, this ripe, warm, dense Cabernet and Tannat blend is the one-two punch to make your heart, and your palate, happy.

Susan Kostrzewa is executive editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a formal taster on the magazine wine tasting panel. She is the author of numerous food, wine and travel books such as Opus Vino, a comprehensive volume of worldwide wines and wine regions, Greatest Escapes, a series of books on literary travel, and Pairings, a guide on matching the eclectic wines and foods of the world. Before relocating from Sonoma to Manhattan in 2005, Kostrzewa was senior editor of Wine Country Living, as well as a contributing writer and/or editor for Savor Wine Country, Marin Magazine, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and several travel magazines.