Few names can make Brunello lovers weak in the knees like Conti Costanti. Founded in the 19th century, it’s not only one of Montalcino’s most historic estates, but also, every year, it consistently turns out some of the most elegant, balanced and dazzling wines in the denomination.
In my tastings of nearly 100 recently released 2016 Riservas, Costanti’s commanded attention. Considered a great vintage in Montalcino due to ideal weather patterns, many of the Riservas are in fact brawny, densely concentrated and have evident alcohol—traits I also noticed in some of the 2016 Annata bottlings reviewed between late 2020 and early 2021. Given that the vintage was not marked by extreme heat or drought, the warm, burly nature of many of the 2016s came as a surprise and underscores a worrying trend in the denomination.
Conti Costanti’s 2016 Riserva, on the other hand, showed the quintessential class, pedigree and longevity that has made the firm—and Brunello—famous.
Owner and winemaker Andrea Costanti took the helm in 1983 and, from the beginning, has been guided by acclaimed consultant enologist Vittore Fiore. At the family’s Colle al Matrichese estate, located just over a mile south of Montalcino’s center, Costanti makes fantastic, delicious and terroir-driven Brunellos. In exceptional vintages, he also produces a small amount of Riserva bottlings.
These days, a number of critics, wine lovers and even some winemakers argue that Brunello Riservas, which cannot be released before January 1, six calendar years after the harvest, are simply the same wine as the straight Brunello released a year later and with a much higher price tag.
Costanti begs to differ.
“Unlike other wine-producing areas that have a long history of single-vineyard bottlings, Brunello’s fame is tied to the great Riserva bottlings,” says Costanti. “Brunello is already a great wine that can develop for years, but the Riservas should be even better, boasting serious longevity. While they can be enjoyed upon release, my Riservas will be even better 20 or 30 years after the vintage, with more complexity.”
Costanti makes about three or four Riservas every decade and exclusively in outstanding years. The final cut is chosen in the cellars. He ferments and ages each vineyard separately, and, after three years of refinement in wood, the best barrels will become a Riserva if the wine fits his strict criteria of exceptional quality, high acidity and remarkable aging potential.
The firm’s 2016 Riserva hailed from the estate’s oldest vineyard, planted between 1976 and 1986. It beautifully captures the essence of the denomination’s iconic Riservas thanks to its enticing depth, elegance and perfect balance. The marked acidity will carry it for decades.
Given the extracted and muscular nature of so many of the 2016 Riservas, the class and pedigree of Costanti’s expression also reflects the estate’s unwavering commitment to produce sleek, polished Riservas that boast refined tannins, succulent fruit and serious longevity.
It starts in the vineyards. High elevations between 1,312 and 1,476 feet above sea level mean grapes benefit from marked day and night temperature variations during the growing season, which generates great aromatics. The elevation is also responsible for the grape’s naturally high acidity levels, crucial for Riservas. The soils, composed of flaky schist known locally as galestro, are ideal for Sangiovese and allow its roots to reach deep down for nutrients.
Conti Costanti 2016 Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino); $220; 100 points
This perfumed wine opens with layers of scents, including violet, woodland berries, new leather, forest floor and warm spices. Smooth and elegantly structured, the savory palate boasts juicy black-skinned berry, blood orange, licorice, tobacco and the barest hint of coffee bean alongside taut, fine-grained tannins. Bright acidity keeps it impeccably balanced. Drink 2026–2046. Cellar Selection
In the cellar, Costanti aged the 2016 Riserva for one year in tonneaux, 25% of which were new, followed by two years of aging in Slavonian casks.
The results of the great vintage, winemaker experience and fantastic vineyards all come together in this extraordinary, 100-point wine.