Moderate alcohol intake has been related to lower mortality. However, alcohol use includes other dimensions beyond the amount of alcohol consumed. These aspects have not been sufficiently studied as a comprehensive entity. We aimed to test the relationship between an overall alcohol-drinking pattern and all-cause mortality. In a Mediterranean cohort study, we followed 18 394 Spanish participants up to 12 years. A validated 136-item FFQ was used to assess baseline alcohol intake. We developed a score assessing simultaneously seven aspects of alcohol consumption to capture the conformity to a traditional Mediterranean alcohol-drinking pattern (MADP). It positively scored moderate alcohol intake, alcohol intake spread out over the week, low spirit consumption, wine preference, red wine consumption, wine consumed during meals and avoidance of binge drinking. During the follow-up, 206 deaths were identified. For each 2-point increment in a 0–9 score of adherence to the MADP, we observed a 25 % relative risk reduction in mortality (95 % CI 11, 38 %). Within each category of alcohol intake, a higher adherence to the MADP was associated with lower mortality. Abstainers (excluded from the calculations of the MADP) exhibited higher mortality (hazard ratio 1·82, 95 % CI 1·14, 2·90) than participants highly adherent to the MADP. In conclusion, better adherence to an overall healthy alcohol-drinking pattern was associated with reduced mortality when compared with abstention or departure from this pattern. This reduction goes beyond the inverse association usually observed for moderate alcohol drinking. Even moderate drinkers can benefit from the advice to follow a traditional MADP.