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Ugly Duckling 

Strange tastings from the cabinet of Dr. Cabernet

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Have you ever wondered if all wine gets better with age? Does it annoy you when an article leads with a question? I'll lead with it anyway, because it's a good question. It's an honest question. If it's naive, so what? Those who "know wine," to use that hilarious phrase, may excuse themselves from this wine column for a moment to check on how their '84s are holding up.

The short answer is "no." The long answer is "no, not necessarily." There are plenty of wines that are almost perfect near their vintage date. Rosé of 2012? Drink up, ready to go! 2011 Pinot Noir? Give it a chance. (And give it a break. It's 2011.)

And there are plenty of wines that are, by their nature, meant to be drunk within a few years of their release. Not among those, generally, is Cabernet Sauvignon. Which brings us to our wine of the week, the 2011 "Ugly Duckling" Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the face of it, the ugly face of it, the idea of releasing a hardly-more-than-one-year-old Cab is, to put it gently, grotesque. But I get it: Cab is the most popular red varietal on the market. So if you can get it for $12 a bottle, what a deal, no? No, but let's put it up with a few other moderately priced Cabs, just for K&G.

2011 'Ugly Duckling' California Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) After initial cheap wine aromas: enticing orgeat, raspberries and the kind of dried green bean and pencil shaving notes beloved by fans of Bordeaux. Unlike much inexpensive wine, this actually improved after being open for two days.

Lange Twins 2009 Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) Black olive and maple syrup make an odd pairing, while the palate conjures burning rubber. On the plus side, Lange Twins is certified sustainable and has its own bicycle racing team.

Martin Ray 2010 Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) Plush, soft, with understated aromas. You've heard of that coffee that's so mellow and expensive because the beans have been pre-digested by forest animals and collected off the forest floor? Instead of coffee, think fruitcake.

Buena Vista 'Viticultural Society' Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($NA) Camphor, eucalyptus, with smooth black cherry and chocolate.

Benziger 2009 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($42) An aromatic, soft, but lively Cab that may be the best of the bunch.

Alas, did Ugly Duckling's uncomplicated, fruity flavors leap out on my palate on second tasting? Sorry, no. After the rest, which did not particularly please the palate on the whole, Duckling tasted like a rusted iron turd. Start cheap, and finish cheap. It's better that way.

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