The wine world is full of talking heads. Wine merchants and wine writers alike often slip into an arcane language when discussing the contents of a glass.

Many descriptions often appear at best pretentious, at worse, downright laughable. Our attempts to describe a particular wine have been pilloried from Gilray to Monty Python.

I am sure none of you will forget the Joyce Grenfell of wine presenters, Jilly Goulden, when on the BBC Food and Drink programme described the Sauvignon Blanc grape from New Zealand as “cats pee on a gooseberry bush”. Remarkably accurate I have to say although somewhat unedifying to the casual listener.

My personal favourite, whilst visiting the Danube Valley vineyards of Austria one year in the company of some heavyweight wine writers, was Oz Clarke’s outburst over an unpleasantly oxidised white Riesling as “like licking damp stair balustrades in a Victorian house” Again poetic in its way but ultimately off-putting to a potential restaurant customer at the wrong end of £50 on the bill and without the confidence to challenge the sommelier.

The grapes used in many wines will often taste rich and sweet on the vine and, well, grapey. Once they have undergone maceration and fermentation with the possible additional process of barrel ageing they will generally taste of anything but grapes. This should come as no surprise. Firstly the grape is nourished by the root, driving its way through chalk, clay, minerals, various alluvial deposits and the odd volcanic layers, all laid down before the world had even offered up life as we know it, let alone wine critics.

The old adage that good wine is made in the cellar whereas great wine is made in the vineyard could not be more pertinent in today’s appraisal of wine styles. Nature does most of the work to provide us with wonderful wines, but she has a way of laying bear-traps.

The second aspect of wine-making is the accentuation or correction of nature’s bounty to suit our demands. Viniculture is where man steps in to enhance certain facets of the fruits’ expression and possibly to offset some of its faults – often in a poor vintage (harvest).

In order to explain what has happened and describe the qualities and ultimately the taste of wine that a consumer may expect when staring blankly at dozens of bottles on the shelf, we drift into extravagant and mystical language. Some useful, some downright comedic.

One word that constantly stops the consumer in his or her tracks is acidity. To many pub goers the word bitter had more sanguine and desirable connotations when ordering a pint of the local brew, but requesting a wine with powerful acidity is not surprisingly a no-go area.

Acidity though, is high on the list when seeking a good wine and one of the aspects of a wine that make it good, is refreshment.

A refreshing wine is one with a balanced acidity. Wine contains a range of acids, the most common is citric which is found in many fruits. A rarer acid is tartaric as is ascorbic (otherwise known as vitamin C). Citric acids provide a lemony kick whereas another component, lactic acid, offers a buttery, creamy aspect to the wine. Finally malic acid, found principally in apples, gives a sharp bite similar to green cooking apples.

So, we need acidity if we require invigorating  wines. The higher the acidity quotient, the more refreshing the drink. We subliminally recognise this facet in wine selection as so many of us increasingly pick Sancerre (made of 100% Sauvignon grape) over Chardonnay, Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne) over Semillon and Picpoul de Pinet rather than older Rieslings. Red wines too need a touch of acidity to avoid flabbiness.

As with food, it is the tongue that goes to work rather than the label. Our demanding taste buds are capable, with some concentration, of instantly recognising basic taste communication with the tongue’s tip sensing sweetness, the upper edges spotting acidity and the front area exposing saltiness.

All of these delicate senses come into play when drinking. If one aspect of this mix falls short, or conversely, camouflages the others then the wine will reveal a sensation of imbalance. When they are all in accord, a sublime enjoyment can ensue.

Should the wine have additional acidity introduced, basically to act as a stabiliser or preservative, the wine will often taste chemical rather than refreshing. When additional sweetness is created, as some Californians will continue to do, the wines refreshment will diminish leaving more wine-gum than wine. With our ever increasing awareness of food and wine pairing growing by the day, it will be acidity that allows our precious digestive juices to perform and the taste of the wine is capable of cutting through fatty or rich tastes, that may otherwise overwhelm.

Try a glass of every day Chardonnay followed by one of Sauvignon and you’ll get the picture, try them both with a piece of grilled white fish and you’ll see the need. Give that tongue a proper job to do and the rewards will follow.