People who love wine want to be knowledgeable about wine — and perhaps hopefully, share that knowledge with others. This makes sense, not just because people behave this way with so many subjects, but also because wine is a subject where increased knowledge really can increase one's appreciation for and enjoyment of it. Put another way, the more you know about wine, the more you can appreciate and enjoy wine. Unfortunately, wine is also a subject where knowledge and "sharing" can go too far.
Wine Lover, Wine Aficionado
A person who loves and appreciates wine is, at the very least, also a person who tries to learn about wine in order to better enjoy it. A wine lover knows what sorts of wines they like most and why. A wine aficionado understands a bit more about wine than someone who is simply a wine lover. A wine aficionado knows something about the different flavors and aromas of different wine grapes.
When choosing a wine to go with a particular meal, they know that not all red wines and not all white wines are created the same — that a Syrah might be more appropriate than a Merlot, or a Riesling might be more appropriate than a Chardonnay. A wine aficionado also knows how to choose the right meals to go with their favorite wines because sometimes the wine is what's primary and the meal is the accompaniment.
To become a wine geek, you have to take a couple of steps beyond simply loving wine or being an aficionado of wine. The term "geek" is used to denote someone with an "eccentric" level of devotion to some topic. Not everyone who is a geek is necessarily ready or willing to take ownership of the label, but there is no denying that it applies in some cases.
What does it take to be a wine geek — to have an "eccentric" level of devotion to wine? Well, it's not enough to simply know when Syrah is more appropriate than Merlot, but you also have to know whether it's better to have an Australian Shiraz rather than a South African Syrah. It's not enough to know that you want Chardonnay rather than a Riesling, but that you want a French Chardonnay from a particular Chateau.
Being a wine geek means not just developing an extensive knowledge of grapes, wines, and vineyards around the world, but also a love for that knowledge itself which is rivaled only by one's love for wine itself — and sometimes not even then, because the knowledge can become an end in itself.
A wine geek knows far more than is strictly necessary for enjoying wine because for the wine geek, it's about more than just enjoying the wine — it's about understanding wine at its furthest reaches. A wine geek is the person you go to when you have serious questions about wine because they are the one who is most likely to know the answer, no matter how obscure the subject.
It can be really helpful to have wine aficionados and wine geeks around if you don't know a great deal about wine yourself, but wine snobs too often just make nuisances of themselves. You might want to be a wine aficionado or wine geek yourself, but if you're not careful you might easily cross the line into wine snob without even realizing it.
The dividing line is basically a matter of attitude and behavior: whereas a wine aficionado or geek simply shares their knowledge when asked for it or when it seems most appropriate, a wine snob tries to share knowledge regardless of whether it is sought or if it is appropriate. The goal isn't so much to help others but rather to show off and improve one's reputation. For the wine geek, knowledge of wine becomes a end in itself; for the snob, though, sharing knowledge become the end in itself.
A wine snob also tends to make the subject of wine appear to be more complicated, more difficult, and more mysterious than it needs to be. Granted, there is an awful lot out there that can be learned about wine, but the basics one needs to learn in order to improve their appreciation of wine really aren't that difficult. Wine isn't rocket science and no one needs to be made to feel dumb around wine by someone making it out to be more complicated than it really is.
If you don't want to cross the line from a wine geek who simply knows a great deal about wine to a wine snob who tries to make themselves look good through talking about wine, perhaps the best advice is to know when to not talk about wine in the first place. It's not always appropriate to start going on about what a wine tastes like, what a wine's flaws are, the wine's terroir, and so forth. Sometimes, you should just sit back, enjoy the wine with the people around you, and not say anything unless asked — and even then, just keep it brief. If people want to hear more, they'll ask.