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Expensive Glass of Crap

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"The owner, she thinks it looks good to have something like that on the menu. So she just got labels made to put over other bottles of wine. Now I have to put up with people asking how we got our hands on a whole case of them! What am I supposed to say, huh? And she actually expects me to sell them. Like no one will notice it's a $10 bottle of plonk!"

Okay, so Wine Is Classy. The classiest of wine drinkers can tell you the difference between the wine of 1993 and 1995 from their favorite vineyard. And then this jokester shows up. He presents a bottle of bum wine from the corner store as a fancy wine much more expensive than it actually is. And the drinkers never catch on, enjoying the cheap wine (and probably exercising their powers of Sommelier Speak). In subversions, the drinker catches on, or in extreme cases is harmed by the substitute.

This can affect any commodity that is perceived to be mainly appreciated by snobs, not just wine. The object has to be presented as a quality brand but doesn't have to be a real brand.

(Note: This does not cover blind taste tests. Differences [or lack thereof] between brands goes in Brand Names Are Better.)

For wine (or beer) that tastes really bad and is recognized as such, see A Tankard of Moose Urine.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The culprit of one case from Case Closed turned out to be a sommelier who killed the owner of the restaurant he worked at before he could expose the sommelier as a fraud who'd been supplying the restaurant with cheap wine falsely labeled as expensive brands in exchange for kickbacks from the cheap wine companies.
  • Gohan no Otomo has an inversion where an elderly spinster wants to prepare a meal for her old crush, who is finally returning to the country after years (if not decades) of absence, but didn't want to show how much effort she's put into the preparation, so she asks for expensive wine in a cheap-looking container to serve him. The vendor had a good laugh over this with another regular, who remarks that he'd have done the opposite.
  • In one chapter of Golgo 13, a wine maker had been in the habit of selling lesser vintages in bottles labelled as being from notable years to customers who he deemed as unworthy of drinking France's finest wines. If the customer found out, he would weasel out of it by claiming that if the allegedly fine wine tasted the same as the lesser wine, it just meant that the customer didn't have the palate to tell the difference. Then one customer decided to test the vintner's trustworthiness by having his ostensibly first rate purchase be opened and tasted by world-renowned sommeliers in public. Knowing that this would result in his scam being exposed and the reputation of his winery being ruined for all time, the vintner hires Golgo to destroy the bottle before anyone can drink from it.
  • In the Lupin III: Part II episode, "The Sleight Before Christmas", the gang steals a bottle of wine being given as a gift from France to the US President, that was originally supposed to be a gift from Napoleon to Empress Josephine. They swapped it out for a cheap bottle of wine. After the heist, Lupin and his crew watch the president enjoy the fake bottle of wine on TV, and laugh mockingly at his palate's inability to distinguish "quality". Then they open the real bottle, and realize that they've stolen a 200 year-old bottle of vinegar.
    Dub!Fujiko: Is this one of those Gift of the Magi things? Because I always hated that book.

  • In the Serenity comic "Wash Out", fancy-ish champagne is switched for cheap rotgut at Wash's eulogy. Justified in that Wash liked the rotgut better.

    Fan Works 
  • In A Northern Dragoness, Lord Darry goes to extreme lengths to get peacock meat for a feast he's throwing, even Elaena Targaryen mentions it's a luxury rarely afforded even at the royal table. Unfortunately, since the meat is so rare, the Darry cooks don't have the slightest idea of how to prepare it. Treating it like normal turkey, they wind up drying it into a sawdust-like consistency.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Horse Feathers has a scene that takes place at a speakeasy and uses this trope to parody the quality of product one can expect from such an establishment. Chico gets an order for a quart of rye and a quart of rum and fills two different bottles from the same jug.
  • Played with in Sideways. Late in their winery tour, Miles and Jack visit a vineyard that Miles, the experienced connoisseur, derides as "a joke" (it's implied they make a mass-market product rather than a boutique small-batch wine). Upon tasting it, Miles goes into a spiel about everything they're doing wrong in their winemaking process, such as failing to de-stem the grapes. Jack, as usual, doesn't taste anything but "wine".

  • The Roald Dahl short story "The Butler" told of a Nouveau Riche homeowner who developed a taste in wine, sought to amass a large wine collection and lectured his guests extensively on the subject. The story's end reveals that his butler, who guided him on his journey, had been fooling him and had always served him the same cheap blend.
  • In a Discworld footnote in Hogfather, it's mentioned that some aristocrats operate under the delusion that labelling the types of expensive alcohol in their bottles backwards will fool servants into not drinking it. It dryly notes that the servants are rarely fooled, and assume with rather more justification that their masters won't notice if the bottles are then topped up with "eniru".
    • A restaurant is mentioned to put "bicarbonate of soda in the white wine to make very expensive bubbles".
  • In Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote the title character earns his promotion from the priesthood by sharing his steak dinner with a visiting bishop, who shows every evidence of enjoyment. His cook/housekeeper reveals shortly afterwards that she's been passing horse meat off as said "steak" for as long as she's been employed by him.
  • The official grounds the Grand Fenwick used to declare war against the US in The Mouse That Roared was that a California vineyard had started selling a wine called Pinot Grand Enwick, a play on the Duchy's primary export, a wine called Pinot Grand Fenwick.
  • In The Quest for Karla the British Secret Service uses crystal decanters to serve cheap South African port to the CIA on the grounds that they wouldn't know the difference.
  • A Star Wars Legends novel Tales of the Bounty Hunters has Boba Fett pursuing war criminal Kardue'sai'malloc by virtue of tracking his orders of a particular whiskey-like alcohol called Merenzane Gold. A furious Malloc snaps back at Fett, claiming that he only had one actual glass of Merenzane Gold in his years as a fugitive; the rest were local crap, imitators that merely looked like Merenzane Gold and were priced accordingly.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit!:
    • In the episode "The Best", they pass off items ranging from a TV-dinner to canned tomatoes as the best ingredients to diners. They also use a real review for an expensive wine to describe a cheap wine (hilariously, the wine's label says "House of Ass" in French). Most of the diners enjoy their dinner. Subverted when one of the diners is a food critic and spends the whole meal obviously confused but biting his tongue out of politeness.
    • In another episode, they have a guy go into a restaurant and offer diners specialty bottled waters with different descriptions. They were all filled with tap water from the same hose.
    • In the "Organic Food" episode, they have people taste-test two banana halves, one organic and one regular. The majority prefer the "organic". Both are actually regular and from the same banana.
  • Played With on All in the Family. An old friend of Archie's is coming over, he likes an expensive scotch. Archie gets an empty bottle of the expensive stuff and fills it with a cheap scotch instead, saying his buddy won't know the difference. When the friend comes over, he mentions that he's been having money trouble and is forced to drink substandard scotch; his taste buds have gotten so used to it that even the fine scotch Archie is serving him tastes like the cheap stuff now.
  • This has happened at least twice on Bar Rescue and it’s another one of Jon Taffer’s Berserk Button ‘s, as well as one of his experts who rightfully show disgust whenever a bar owner feels they have to rip off their customers and “marry their liquor bottles” as the process is called.
  • Boardwalk Empire: The pilot episode shows the bootlegging operation of Mickey Doyle (and later Chalky White), who takes real liquor smuggled in from abroad, then dilutes it with various chemicals to stretch out their supply and fake the appearance (including counterfeit labels) of quality liquor. It doesn't really fool many people, but does cause the demand (and price) for genuine liquor to soar.
  • Bones: The Victim of the Week is a wine critic; he's killed by a man who was bootlegging expensive wine, filling knockoff bottles with his cheaper wine. Played With in that most people couldn't taste the difference, something explicitly mentioned by the bootlegger. The wine critic, however, could, which was why he had to go.
  • CSI: NY:
    • A non-wine example in "Grand Master." A delicacy know as fugu in Japan (vicious blowfish sushi) is being sold for $500/serving. However, the fish in question were raised in captivity and had their mouths sewn shut so they weren't dangerous at all. Danny says a serving is worth about 20 bucks.
    • In "A Daze of Wine and Roaches," cheap wine was being passed off as expensive, though that wasn't ultimately why the vic was killed - it involved the killer trying to squash a bejeweled cockroach.
    • In "The Real McCoy," one of titular speakeasy employees was cutting corners with counterfeit vodka. This particular instance was particularly dangerous because the vodka had methanol, not ethanol.
  • The original CSI also did this, incidentally in an episode that was a crossover with CSI: NY and somewhat similar to the episode described above. A wine collector got mad because cheap wine was put into bottles supposedly of a vintage worth thousands. The scammer ends up dead in a wine barrel.
  • In Black Books, Manny and Bernard housesit for a friend and accidentally drink a ridiculously expensive and rare bottle of wine he was going to present as a gift to the pope. They concoct their own (mixing cheap wine with a rather Literal-Minded assortment of the things a guidebook says it should taste like) and put it in the bottle, reasoning that "all wine tastes the same". Their brew kills the pope and the friend is arrested for it.
  • A variation in Northern Exposure, where Maurice, in one of his Jerkass moves, donates oxidised fine wine to a local charity auction. It turns around on him when Holling innocently buys the wine and invites Maurice to dinner, forcing him to drink it and pretend that it's good. He's called on it by Walter Kupfer, a gruff local trapper with an unexpected background as a Wall Street trader.
    • In another episode, Shelly accidentally breaks a bottle of fine wine Maurice plans to serve the next day. Eve manages to create a replacement using cheap wine and household ingredients, explaining that as the wife of a master chef she has developed a skill in fooling discerning palates.
  • In an episode of MythBusters, they test whether filtration is enough to make cheap rotgut taste like top-shelf vodka. It...isn't, but most of the team (including a certified taster) said the filtration improved the taste somewhat. (Kari played the trope the straightest, ranking the various filtrations more or less randomly, with the rotgut rated higher than the top-shelf. Jamie and the professional both rated the top-shelf above everything else. And for the record, the test was double-blind.)
  • Played with in White Collar. In an early episode, Neal tells a story about how he and Kate had a very fancy bottle but not the wine to fill it, so they'd fill it with crap and pretend they were living the high life.
  • Attempted in Rumpole of the Bailey (Series 4, Episode 2, "Rumpole and the Blind Tasting"), where a wine merchant attempts insurance fraud by putting cheap plonk into empty bottles of Château Cheval Blanc (a real-life very expensive Bordeaux), then getting rid of the bottles in such a way that he could claim that the bottles were stolen and take a large insurance payout for the total loss of the wine. In order to cement his case, the merchant held a blind tasting and pushed a Times wine correspondent to identify the horrible plonk as the Château Cheval Blanc. To cement the "theft", he places the bottles in the garage of a known South London fence. Unfortunately for the merchant, Rumpole was present at the tasting and recognized the plonk as his preferred tipple of "Château Fleet Street", and the fence was a Timson—and the Timsons have Rumpole on (metaphorical) speed-dial...
  • Examined in Adam Ruins Everything in explaining that Wine Snobs fake their discernment of wines. A White Wine dyed Red will have a different taste to the same wine un-dyed and a cheap wine said to be an expensive one will be better than the same wine labeled as is.
  • On an episode of Extreme Cheapskates, a man bragged that he routinely put cheap beer in expensive-brand bottles, and his kids didn't know the difference. (Jump-cut to one of them saying "We can totally tell the difference.")
  • In a flashback in How I Met Your Mother, Lily breaks an expensive bottle of Glen McKenna and replaces it by sticking the label on a cheap bottle of scotch. When Robin points out that the color and flavor isn't quite the same, they use ketchup, hot sauce, and hand sanitizer to match the original. Later, Ted sneaks a taste before bringing it to Barney, he can't tell the difference.

  • Cabin Pressure
    • Angry at a passenger for being rude to her, Carolyn Shappey swaps out the expensive wine that he requests she serve him with the same boxed crap that they serve everyone on the airline, justifying herself with the excuse that everyone's palate is shot at their altitude (Truth in Television; this is, in fact, "the deal with airline food").
    • In "Edinburgh", it eventually transpires that Douglas replaced Mr. Birling's very expensive single malt whisky with some cheap stuff called "McHamish's Tartan Reserve" ... and sort of inverted because he put the single malt in the Tartan Reserve bottle and Mr. Birling drank that as well. But by that point he was in no state to tell the difference.

  • Referred to in The Bible, the story of the wedding at Cana; It was the custom to switch out the good wine for inferior stuff once the guests were buzzed, but Jesus turns water into the good stuff and people can tell the difference.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy XIV:
    • There is a sidequest where you must do a trade with an amateur sommelier who wants an expensive out of production wine. The player character finds an empty bottle of the wine in question and Hancock, the merchant you met previously, suggests replacing it with another wine as the client wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway, as he likely just wants it for bragging rights and so won't want to ruin the ability to brag of having it by actually drinking it.
    • A string of flavor dialogue in the Gold Saucer has a bossy customer angrily order a waitress to bring their best wine. If you follow her back to the bar, you'll see her get her petty revenge as she asks the bartender for a glass of their "vilest piss".
  • World of Warcraft: One daily cooking quest in Dalaran involves a dwarf asking for a cheese and wine platter, and the player delivering it to him. Because this dwarf is not as cultured as he thinks he is, he ends up getting the remnants of several half-drunk wine glasses along with a hunk of Limburger cheese, all served on an old buckler serving as a platter...and he's none the wiser.
  • Yakuza: Kiwami: In one of Majima's crazy schemes to provoke Kiryu into fighting him, he poses as a bartender and offers him a couple glasses of what he claims are top-shelf whisky, and since Kiryu knows very little about alcohol he goes along with it. He then charges Kiryu a frankly extortionate amount for the drinks, forcing Kiryu to either pay through the nose or refuse and give Majima a reason to fight him (which is, of course, what Majima wanted all along). After beating Majima, he compliments Kiryu for being able to hold his liquor while fighting, then admits that what he served was really some cheap rotgut, and that he nearly lost it when Kiryu started throwing out "classy" descriptions like he knew what he was talking about.
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon: In Nanba's first Bonding Event at the Survive Bar, he confesses that he once took advantage of a night where he was alone in the bar to "sample" a bottle of extremely rare high-end "Legend Malt" whiskey behind the counter. Then he overdid it and downed the whole bottle by mistake, so he went out and topped it up with some convenience store booze. He's now worried that the bartender will notice. The followup Event reveals that the bartender never had any genuine "Legend Malt" to begin with, and had been displaying an empty bottle filled with cheap booze to make the bar look classier, while counting on its price to scare off anyone from actually trying it. And on the off chance that someone who could afford it wanted a sip, he'd hit them with a phony sob story about how he's saving it in memory of a Lost Lenore ward them off. Knowing this, Nanba stops worrying about his mistake.

    Web Original 
  • This story from Not Always Working. Fortunately the barkeep is more principled than the store owner and warns the poster about the scam. Later the poster gave the barkeep a job.
    "The owner, she thinks it looks good to have something like that on the menu. So she just got labels made to put over other bottles of wine. Now I have to put up with people asking how we got our hands on a whole case of them! What am I supposed to say, huh? And she actually expects me to sell them. Like no one will notice it's a $10 bottle of plonk!"
  • Robbaz rails against "fine wines" for being too dry during his mead-brewing escapades.
  • Done acidentally in this Not Always Right story: Some rich country club types complain when the club runs out of Miller Lite, and the manager — who doesn't really know what he's doing — accidentally swaps the taps round so the stuff they were complaining about is now coming out of a tap labelled Miller Lite. Before the barman can explain his mistake to him, the complainers return and, of course, are completely satisfied that they've got more Miller Lite.

    Western Animation 
  • In the episode of The Jetsons where Rosie first appears, George invites Mr. Spacely over for dinner at the last minute, and Rosie is able to turn leftovers into what looks like a very nice pot roast.
  • The Simpsons
    • In "Duffless", a tour of the Duff brewery reveals that Duff, Duff Dry, and Duff Lite all come from the same pipe.
    • In "The Springfield Files", when Homer says he wants to try something special, Moe draws an umlaut on a Duff label and claims it's a Swedish beer.
    • In "The Fabulous Faker Boy", Moe offers Homer a bottle of Duff Platinum, but the label falls off revealing it's actually Duff Swill.

    Real Life 
  • Allegedly, even in Ancient Greece, people in some colonies would put local wine in amphorae left from imported wines and then sell it.
  • During the German occupation of France in World War II, some wine merchants would run a scam against German officers by sprinkling dust on bottles of cheap plonk to pass it off as old and valuable, or swap labels from terrible vintage years with good ones. This was a dangerous game to run since many officers and top Nazi officials (especially Hermann Göring) were avid wine connoisseurs and could taste the difference. As well that even dealing in fake goods could get one labeled a collaborationist and murdered.
  • Pepsi, to compete with Coca-Cola, decided at one point to sell their product in bottles that were not only larger than Coke's but also cheaper at a nickel, as opposed to 10 cents for a Coke (this was viable because the syrup and carbonated water were extremely cheap to make, so any loss was offset easily by the additional sales). Often, people would buy the Pepsi, but then pour it into empty Coke bottles for their guests to make it seem like they were willing to pay for the more expensive pop. (Also, at the time, Pepsi was one of the few brands that actively targeted minority consumers—especially in the South, "good" Southern white folks didn't want to be seen drinking Pepsi.)
  • Many bootleggers during Prohibition sold colored and diluted industrial alcohol in bottles with counterfeit labels. As Daniel Okrent summed up the state of speakeasy booze:
    There were exceptions, of course, but in too many places, if you ordered Brand X, you got Brand X; if you ordered Dewar's or Gordon's, you paid twice as much — and got Brand X.
  • In 2013, the State of New Jersey ran a sting operation called "Operation Swill" that revealed no less than 29 establishments statewide (of which 13 were T.G.I. Friday's locations) passing off cheaper brands as premium liquor.
  • It's not uncommon for wine enthusiasts to be fooled by wines based solely on the bottle or description by the maitre d'. However, there are still individuals with a discerning enough palate to discern a cheap wine passed off as superior through deception.
  • The ideal vodka consists of just two chemicals (ethanol and water) and a well-made vodka should be effectively flavorless. While all brands of vodka have trace impurities, the difference in taste between the most and least expensive is, for the most part, almost nonexistent. If an unflavored vodka has any readily noticeable flavor, that's a sign of poor quality regardless of the price tag.
    • When preparing (or ordering) a vodka-based mixed drink it's best to use a relatively inexpensive one that's of decent quality because everything else in the mixed drink will mask whatever impurities the vodka has. Save the really good stuff for when you don't want it mixed with something else.
    • This is true of mixed drinks made with other spirits, too, not just vodka. Unless a menu specifies a certain brand of alcohol, your mixed drink will almost certainly be made using what are called well drinks, lower tier that don't taste as good on their own, but which won't spoil that mixed drink. Bars and restaurants use those to increase their profits.
  • Israeli Minister of the Treasury 2013-5 Yair Lapid, notorious for being a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, announced relatively shortly after being appointed in 2013 that he was raising the taxes on cheap alcoholic beverages and reducing them for expensive ones. Naturally, this move, supposedly taken not only to fight Israel's fairly large debt but also to combat underage consumption of alcohol, was met with very great ire. Dror Nobleman, a well-known Israeli comedian and screenplay writer, responded by sharing a story (in Hebrew) on Facebook about how back when he worked as a bartender for a catering company, which had the habit of filling bottles of expensive brands with cheap alcohol of shady quality, he had worked in an event Lapid attended. During the event, Lapid sat on the bar and asked for a glass of a particular brand of high-quality whiskey, explaining the process used to produce it and extolling its virtues in great detail. Nobleman, knowing full well the bottle they had with that label certainly did not contain the whiskey Lapid was apparently so acquainted with, served him a glass of its contents, trembling in fear of detection by this great connoisseur... who praised the glass he tasted, unaware of its real contents.
  • The book The Billionaire's Vinegar details the scams of one Hardy Rodenstock, a German wine collector whose greatest claim to fame was finding the missing Jefferson wines (quick story: in the late 18th century, Thomas Jefferson ordered a large amount of wine from several first-rate vineyards in France; one of the cases vanished en route). The problem was that the vast majority were various cheap brands relabeled and resold as the rarest of the rare. (It's worth noting that a famous wine critic who is portrayed in the book as being blindly trusting of his own experience and consequently suckered at every turn by Rodenstock sued the book's author for libel... in England, where libel laws are notoriously biased towards the plaintiff, throwing the legitimacy of his lawsuit into question.)note .
  • The 1976 Judgment of Paris, as detailed in the movie Bottle Shock, was seen as this by French wine experts, who had always haughtily assumed that New World wines were never going to seriously challenge the best French product and were blown away when Californian wines came out on top.
  • The Netflix documentary Sour Grapes detailed the exploits of another collector/forger, Rudy Kurniawan, who was found out when a French winemaker noticed that bottles he was putting up for auction were from vintages that didn't exist.
  • Vladimir Gilyarovsky, a famous pre-Revolutionary Russian journalist and a chronicler of the old-timey Moscow life, had once described a popular practice of the city's restaurateurs dubbed half-and-half, where they will supply the most important guests with the good brand-name booze, while the rest will get cheap knock-off brands, and they actively advertised this practice to the organizers of various functions hiring them as a way to reduce the expense. There's actually been a whole industry of such brands, as exemplified by the Moscow wine trader Caesar Despreux, who faked the wines and brandies of the much better known (and overall better) winemaker Carl Despreux, down to the label designs with their initials. When the latter sued, it was ruled that as Caesar Despreux used his own name in producing the knock-offs, he may continue, and the responsibility of distinguishing them lies with the consumer.
  • In the aftermath of World War II, Europe was in shambles and it wasn't uncommon to receive a glass of vodka (or other tasteless alcohol) with added flavoring and coloring, instead of the cognac you ordered.
  • Inverted depending on if you can or can't taste tannins. If you can, then they overpower all other flavors, and a $100+ wine tastes the same as the boxed stuff from the grocery store: like tannins and alcohol, with subtle notes of rotten fruit. This is probably the reason for the "all wine tastes the same" quip: it genuinely does to some people. However, tannins bind to fat molecules, neutralizing the flavour. This is why you're supposed to pair red wines with fatty foods, such as cheese or steaks (and, incidentally, is why cream makes your coffee taste better).