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Germany: not just Liebfraumilch

Germany is the eight-largest wine producer in the world, but for those who love white wine it is one of the most important producers. Historically German wine had a negative reputation for overly-sweet, unbalanced, sickly wines. This had little to do with actual production in the country, and more to do with export practices – where producers would export their lower-end wine to the United States and other international markets. This caused people internationally to believe that all German wine was of inferior quality – a similar situation to that of the Chianti region of Italy.


In fact, a large portion of German wine is dry – and that portion is increasing every year as both international and domestic palates shift away from sweeter wines. Riesling still dominates the German export market, ranging from bone dry wines to sweet wines built for aging over the decades. In the past twenty years red wine production has also increased drastically, and red wine now makes up roughly one third of the country's total production.


German wine is characterized most clearly by the presence of high acidity – the grapes generally have a lower hang time on vine due to the cold climate, and the varietals primarily used (such as riesling) tend to retain their acidity even with higher levels of ripeness. This creates the clear, crisp style that defines high-end German rieslings and other whites, along with a tendency not to use oak, and to create lower-alcohol wines.


Nearly all wine production in Germany takes place on the banks of rivers, with the bodies of water producing microclimates that somewhat compensates for the harsh winters, and the sloped mountains rising out of the rivers allowing the vines to capture and retain maximum sunlight. Specific wine regions in Germany can be complicated to understand. While there are only 13 major regions, there are a further 39 sub-divisions, which are even further sub-divided into 167 collective sites (Großlagen). The total number of vineyards within these sites is more than 2,500 – an enormous amount considering the relative size of total acres planted.


Like most Old World regions, although even more so, Germany is distinguished by this presence of large numbers of very small vineyards. This creates many extremely rare, small production wines of high-quality. Often these wines are not exported, so that the only way to purchase them is to visit the winery in person. For this reason, high-end German wines are especially prized by collectors.