Good Stuff For Cheap? really?

I saw the report on the trader joe’s chardonnay wine-the $2.00 bottle beat out several much more expensive wines, in a blind taste test. Whic makes me wonder; can you really get high quality stuff at low prices? take scotch whiskey-I have had some moderately-priced scotch whiskeys, which tasted almost as good as Walker’s Blue Label ($400/bottle). Or audio stuff-my advent speakers sound just as good as $1000" polk Audio units. Does it hold for clothes? A well-made man’s shirt (like RL Polo) can be had for about $35.00-are those $200 “handmade” shirts substantially different?
I’m just wondering how much luxury goods are actually better , than middle-tier stuff!

There are two factors at play here. One is the law of diminishing returns, and the other is that for your “average joe” telling the difference between a product that is merely good and an excepetional product requires a lot of practice and experience.

I am a car and a beer fan, and I can really feel a “connection” to both of these products, and differences that would not be apparent to Joe feel enormous to me. However, I cannot tell the difference between a £10 and a £10 000 bottle of wine, nor do I have any desire to.

A related fact: Aviation enthusiasts whose brains were scanned were found to use the same part of their brain recognising planes as recognises faces in most other people.

To address this great question of our time: yes, you can, but the corollary is that more often than not, pushing for the cheapest possible option gets you shoddy goods, crappy service, or both.* There are certainly exceptions, as in the case of one great canna nursery with which I do business.

As a mild hijack, I think that ratings of things such as food and drink are highly subjective and subject to distortion based on label and cost, and that the reviews are worthless unless blind testing is done. At least one wine magazine reportedly does this.
*a corollary to this corollary is that any company whose advertising emphasizes the hazards of paying too much attention to a product’s cost, probably is charging you too much.

(note: I’m leaving subjective judgement aside for this, and simply assuming someone who can distinguish between ‘low’ and ‘high’ quality, even if they may prefer one over the other.)

The “Two-buck Chuck” (Charles Shaw wine sold by Trader Joe’s) is one example of what you get when you’re paying less. Namely, you have a lower assurance of the level of quality.

That wine is mostly produced from ‘leftover’ grapes that are bought up cheaply. This means the wine’s flavor varies much more widely than that from, say a single vineyard in a single year (of course even the variance from year to year is well-known in wine). It would hardly be shocking if the wine sent to the State Fair was from the best batch they could find.

The long and short of it is that, yes, you can get high-quality wine for a few dollars a bottle. But you can’t necessarily expect to get that every time you buy it. When you pay the $50 for a bottle, you’re likely to get the same level of quality in all the bottles from that vineyard. Whether you happen to prefer it is up to you.

It’s interesting to compare this with scotch - the higher quality blended whiskies are very carefully matched for consistency. Since malts, and hence each distillery’s product may vary from year to year, companies like Johnny Walker must modify their mix in order to yield a product they feel is deserving of their label (at least that’s what they say).

Consistency, of course, is not necessarily a hallmark of good quality; nor is the same stuff (even if it’s great) year after year exciting for some people. However, consistently high quality is often what you end up paying for, even with other products.

I have heard exactly that complaint about Two Buck Chuck- that it’s quite inconsistent in quality.

You have a better chance of getting good stuff for cheap if your idea of what is “good stuff” is not exactly the same as everyone else’s. For example, I’m not a big fan of the huge, oaky, buttery Chardonnays that are popular among California winemakers. I prefer the unoaked, fruitier style that is common in Australian Chardonnays. But I’m bucking the trend- a lot of people like the buttery style and are willing to pay a fair bit for it, while people aren’t willing to pay as much for the style I like. As a result, most Chardonnays that I like are under $10. (There is also the fact that creating the oakier style is more expensive- oak barrels aren’t cheap and can’t be reused as often as stainless steel ones)

At the last winery in which my wife worked, they had a holiday party tradition: a massive blind tasting. (Where you don’t know what you’re drinking…not that you drink 'til you can’t see.)

Two years back, we tasted a panel of 21 Chardonnays of every description—cheap, expensive, mass-market, rare, California, New York, Australian, 10-yrs old, etc.—and a panel of 33 Pinot Noirs of the same variety.

The winner of the Pinots turned out as one might expect. I don’t remember exactly which wine it was, but you were looking at a 5-year-old bottle that retailed for $75+. (Some of the 20-year-old bottles were amazing, esp. considering that they were PNs; but others were horribly corked or nearly so.)

But with the Chardonnays, the winner was … Yellow Tail. A wine you can buy for $5.99. My personal conclusion, after having tasted all of those wines, was that fatigue plays a major role in large tastings like this. Wine can become a bit like advertising: If you have a clear, simple message, it gets through the din of everything else. Yellow Tail was straightforward and inoffensive, and among a field of 20 other, often very oaky and complicated rivals, it stood out.

While food fights belong in Cafe Society, general polls (e.g. about buying practices) belong in IMHO.

There is no debate, here, (and I will thank everyone who participates to not make it one. :stuck_out_tongue:
[ /Moderating ]

Don’t worry – the professional wine snobs can’t, either. That’s why every few months there’s an article about how blind taste-testers are horrified to discover that they’ve picked the $4.00 red from a box that’s been sitting in the back of a shelf at the Kwik-E-Mart for ten years.

There are also some interesting studies where wine snobs couldn’t tell the difference between reds and white in a totally blind tasting (black glassware.) But as others have said, price can tell you some things. My general rule, if I don’t know much about the product, is to select the second-lowest priced item from the central group. I’ve been fairly satisfied with the choices so far.


You know, I have always refered to myself as a bit of a Vodka snob. And if you give me a chilled shot of Stoli, Grey Goose, and Albertsons brand Vodka Product, I can tell the difference. Or at least, I always thought I could.

(Stoli wins. Grey Goose has a very harsh aftertaste, to me)

I think I’ll set up a blind taste test very soon. This whole idea has intrigued me.

Cite, please? Robert Parker claims he can remember just about every wine he’s ever tasted, and people who attempt to test him at it usually confirm his claim. Certainly many of the critics out there have highly trained palettes.

The average Joe who drinks wine once a week may not be able to tell the difference, but people who study wine for a living definitely know what they’re tasting. It’s no mystery; try training your tastes yourself, it’s doable and not nearly as hard as people think it is.

Vodka taste seems especially prone to labels and marketing. See below (*).

Wines and their relationship to price is hard to get a handle on. I mean. . .lets say you give me 10 wines, priced $10, $20,. . .$90, $100 and ask me to rank them. What’s passing? What’s failing? Am I right or are the companies right?

However, you can establish a correlation and I read an article once that indicated that the PRICE of California wines was more correlated with subjective, blind tasting than the French wines.

To the OP: Recent article I read indicated that some of the secrecy that surrounds Chinese manufacturing is because they don’t want you to know that premium clothing brands are made in the same places as the discount brands.

We probably all have stories about cheap stuff lasting forever and expensive stuff breaking down early, but it’s still not where I’d put my money.

(*) Old article on Vodka.
From here. Times Select required.

In short, I wouldn’t get too snooty about vodkas until you’ve taste-tested them blind.

I prefer Svedka, especialy for the price.

Whisky, (or Whiskey if you prefer) is something that must reach the age of consent to be drinkable.

Birkenstock sandals. I bought two pairs of $100+ Birkenstocks about a decade ago. I wear them all summer, every summer, and they are just now getting to the point where they need to be replaced. It seems like a lot to pay for a simple leather sandal, but the quality really is head and shoulders above your generic $25 pair.

You may already know this, but for the benefit of others who do not – Birks can be resoled. I’ve had one pair resoled at an authorized repair shop; the new sole says “Birk” just like the original. He told me he also had genuine Birkenstock buckles as well. The shop also repairs Eccos with authorized ‘parts.’ This extends the value of these shoes even more! I think the sole repair cost me about $35.

High quality at a low price doesn’t work if you are buying tools or sheets. There, you need to spring for the good stuff. Craftsman is the lowest quality tool you should ever own. If you can’t afford them, then you should just borrow the tool until you can afford a decent set of your own. Sheets and pillowcases should be several levels above what you can afford. Cheap makes a big difference in bed linen.

Since silenus mentioned Craftsman, I feel it appropriate to observe that my wife and I pretty regularly apply the old Sears rating system - good/better/best.
Generalizing across the entire universe of our purchases of goods and services, we find we are generally pretty satisfied with the middle range. Another corollary is getting 3 quotes and going with the middle one.

I think one reason I tend to avoid the bottom level is that the potential marginal loss if I am dissatisfied with the product generally exceeds the potential marginal benefit I will derive from saving a relatively small amount of money. Using the example of 2-buck-Chuck (which I think is up to $2.50-3 in my area), I just don’t see the need to go that cheap when there are so many really decent $5-7 bottles of wine.

Similar with the high end. If I lack sophistication in an area, I doubt I will be able to appreciate the subtle increases in quality that warrant a higher price.

The times we will go to the high end is if a purchase involves something we are really interested in - a hobby or somesuch - where we will know and appreciate the difference. Or if it is something we will use frequently or for a long time. For example, my wife bought a new violin a while back. You can get a decent sounding violin for under a grand, and a pretty good violin for maybe $3K. But she didn’t want to try to strictly adhere to a budget and then spend the rest of her playing days wishing she had bought a nicer fiddle. So she spent somewhere considerably upwards of $3K, and has never regretted the expenditure. Having said that, I’m sure many accomplished fiddlers would listen to her and saying a $3K axe would have been more than sufficient for her game.

Eyeglasses/sunglasses are another area that I feel you need to go above the cheap level. No, I don’t think those little bits of plastic should cost several hundreds of dollars, but the name brand ones are clearly of better quality, and more durable. And your glasses really influence how you look, how you feel about yourself, and how others view you.

Concerning one of my hobbies - golf - I feel that anyone who buys a new club the year it comes out is pretty much an idiot. Wait 1 year, and the price will drop substantially. Wait 2 years, and it will be down to 1/2. The main thing is not to be more than one entire generation behind in technology, not to have the latest thing.

Similarly with golf balls. There are very few amateur golfers who can appreciate (or even properly hit) Pro V1s, but many many will pay the premium to use the ball the pros endorse. There are so many good balls made these days, that there is little reason not to hit what is on sale (or - in my case - what you find!)

Some products are substantially cheaper because they do not advertise as heavily. In golf, the brand Tour Edge historically did not seek pro endorsements, and their very high quality products were generally priced as low as 1/2 those of their competitors such as Nike, Titleist, etc. And they provided unbeatable service, including a 100% no questions replacement guarantee. In recent years, however, they have added a top line that approaches - but is still below - the prices of their competitors.