Colourful toy-town houses dot the shore, whilst in the distance snow capped mountains cast ever-shifting shadows across the lake. The water laps quietly in the distance as a gentle breeze delivers the soft smell of pink flowers to passers by. This is Lake Como, home to great food, fun people, endless panoramas, George Clooney and – finally – its very own gin. RIVO.
We get asked to review so many gins that it’s impossible to say yes to all, so when RIVO Gin’s founder Marco Rivolta got in touch to tell us about his product we almost let it (and him) pass us by. We’re motivated by story here, though, so when Rivolta mentioned that he’d made the gin in collaboration with his mum, we had no choice but to get involved.
Rivolta and his mother decided to team up and make a gin in 2014. “I’ve always been a Gin fan, and a spirit lover in general,” Rivolta told us. “Travelling a lot, I realised way back in 2012 that the Gin scene was evolving. I thought: Lake Como offers an incredible botanical variety thanks to its position and the difference of altitudes. It is a blend of Mediterranean and Alpine climate. Why not put it into a gin? Having a mum whose biggest hobby is foraging and cultivating herbs was the trigger.”
It took Rivolta and his mum two years to launch RIVO Gin. “We could have taken a lot less time,” he explained, “but we wanted to make sure we could create something unique. We had to take the time to identify the right bouquet, to understand what botanicals could be foraged and ultimately distilled.”
Many recipes were tried and tasted, with the duo initially selecting 50 botanicals to work from. They whittled that down to 30, which they micro-distilled to trial and blend, before eventually settling on a list of just 12. Someone who Rivolta is keen to point to as a guiding light is Samuele Ambrosi from Cloakroom Cocktail Lab in Treviso; as a bartenders he has a working knowledge of what a Gin needs to stand out, so he was able to sip and make suggestions.
“My personal idea of Gin is like a pyramid,” Rivolta said. “On top, you have juniper obviously. Gin needs a smell and taste structure that should remind the drinker it is a Gin, and that’s the reason for using some of the classic botanicals like coriander, cardamom and angelica.
The juniper, coriander, cardamom and angelica are joined by seven locally foraged ingredients, which Rivolta’s mum gathers along with a team of botanists. These include salad burnet, winter savory, lemon balm and Breckland thyme.
The botanicals are harvested three times a year, when the expert foragers trample for miles across the lake’s mountains. “Once they’ve found the right spots, they pick only the best botanicals by hand,” Rivolta explained. “It takes lots of time and skill, but is also a deeply satisfying labour of love. Foraging is the art of searching for botanicals in the wild. It reconnects you with nature and the places where our ingredients are taken.”
RIVO Gin is distilled at the Italian Distilleria Quaglia, one of Italy’s oldest distilleries. Each botanical is distilled separately and to its best advantage, so while the spices are left to macerate for 10 days in a 70% Italian grain alcohol, the freshly plucked botanicals are steeped for just 48 hours.
The solutions are pressed, and then distilled in a double-bottomed pot still. Each run takes a different length of time depending on the type of botanical and the quantity needed, so some can take 10 hours, while others take only 30 minutes. Finally, the distillates are married together and watered down to bottling strength of 43%.
RIVO Gin to taste…
Sharp and fresh lemon balm leaps to the fore, joining the juniper to assail the nose with hints of pine, citrus and a touch of soft honey. The nose is sublimely fresh, sending the drinker sprawling into the bright, burning countryside.
To taste, the fresh botanicals like lemon balm dominate the fore. They’re sharp and bright, with crisp herbal notes holding court on the tongue while their secondary citrus adds a depth. The juniper starts to emerge towards the middle of the sip, where it – as on the nose – tousles with the lemon balm to assert dominance. The citrus qualities of the plant are given extra strength by the lemony coriander seeds, so from start to finish RIVO Gin is a tart affair, although notes of honey ring out.
It’s smooth enough to sip neat, yet definitely a gin that would stand up well to a classic cocktail like a Bee’s Knees or a French 75 (the latter, in particular would be great… we’re a bit heartbroken we only have a tiny sample here in the UK!). With tonic, there’s no sense of RIVO Gin drowning. Instead, the lemon balm is increased 10-fold, while the other botanicals tangle together indiscernibly, creating a strong, herbal platform upon which the lemon balm and juniper march.
Rivolta’s suggested serve is orange peel and a handful of juniper berries. As contrary as we like to be, we can’t help but agree with that. Coaxing the juniper out further is a good step, whilst orange will complement the dominating lemon balm whilst bringing in a hint of fresh, juicy fruit.
RIVO Gin’s bottle is outstanding. Tapered, rounded glass is decorated with a strikingly pretty label wrapped across the front and around the neck. Geometric lines chase each other in a seemingly infinite pattern, with loops and triangles designed to represent the mountains and waves of Lake Como. It’s a gift-worthy piece of packaging, and one that’ll help the gin to draw its name in the sand.
With exports to the UK and other European countries in the works, and more on the horizon, as well as provenance that ties it to one of the most desirable holiday destination this side of the equator, RIVO Gin feels like one with the capacity to turn into big business. At its heart, though, is a genuine family story; “a dream come true” for Rivolta, who sums it all up quite nicely when he says: “We always wanted to do something together. I travel a lot and I have little opportunity to do things with my family, and this venture has represented the perfect occasion. Working with my mum is one of the most beautiful things about this project. She is incredibly tough but she always remains a mum, even in business. She keeps things under control.”
RIVO Gin is one with real potential. It looks good and tastes great. It has real provenance (despite being third party distilled) and a family heart. It’s too early to see how the brand will develop and if it manages to continue the promising work, but all the indications are that it should. Its owner knows what he’s doing. Rivolta comes from the world of brand building – he knows the intricacies of growing nothing into something, and what he’s working with is already way beyond its start point.
For more information about RIVO gin visit the website: www.rivogin.com
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