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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.)



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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Lupin III (Red Jacket) 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.

  • 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.

  • 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".
  • 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.

    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. 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 dinners 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.
  • 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 had an episode where 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 the guy's jewelled cockroach.
  • 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 scanner 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.) You'd probably have to filter it and also mix it with something else before the taste would be completely hidden. But That Would Be Wrong. And, in any case, it would probably be cheaper to just buy the good stuff than to go through all that trouble and expense to improve the poor vodka.
    • A quick test anyone to do check the purity of any vodka is to pour some onto their hands and let it evaporate. If the vodka evaporates dry, it's pure. If it leaves behind sticky residue, it's been adulterated with sugar to smooth out a bad taste created by shabby distillation and filtration. One would think the expensive vodka would be pure and the cheap would have sugar, no? There's actually no correlation! Just a word of advice: Grey Goose DOES have sugar in it, so not only are you buying vodka that is far more expensive than numerous other quality competitors, but it is actually worse than them.
  • 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.")

  • 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 
  • 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 cheap street wine claiming that they are really 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 the truth and tells Kiryu that he nearly lost it when he started throwing out "classy" descriptions for cheap rotgut like he knew what he was talking about.

    Web Original 

    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 
  • During the Nazi occupation of France, many wine merchants would run a scam against Nazi 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 top Nazi officials (especially Goering) were avid wine connoisseurs and could taste the difference. As well that even dealing in fake goods could get one labeled a collaborator 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. 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 a "nigger drink.")
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Then there's 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).


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