Did you know the band Train has their own wine company? Admittedly, I’m not a fan (let’s politely describe my feelings about them as “ambivalent”), so I don’t know much about the pop-rock group other than they’ve had a few hits over the years. I certainly wasn’t aware of the Save Me, San Francisco Wine Company – the brand, named after a Train album no less, originally launched in 2011 and has expanded to six different varieties of wine all – yep – named after Train songs.
My first thought was “Seriously? Train?!” Obviously my second thought was: “I gotta try these.” I know: Curiosity killed the cat.
But Train is a bunch of musicians. I can’t hold a “Drops of Jupiter” California Red to the same standards as a blend from Chateau Lafite Rothschild. How do you objectively critique the wines of rock stars? You compare them to their music, of course.
So with that in mind, I set down a very daunting path. I drank all six Train wines while listening to the songs they’re named after in a quest to answer the question: Which is better, Train’s wines or the song they are named after?
Bulletproof Picasso 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
As with any proper tasting, I decided to start light, which paired Train’s 2014 Sauvignon Blanc against the title track of their 2014 album Bulletproof Picasso. The song, which I’d never heard before (it charted in that black hole known as the Billboard “Adult Top 40”) is a straightforward stomper, opening with a pleasant piano hook. The wine opens similarly with a subtle, but acceptable nose of light tropical fruit, green vegetation and minerality. On the palate, the Sauvignon Blanc picks up steam, balancing citrus acidity with a slightly creamy mouthfeel; meanwhile the song keeps pounding along, without ever really piquing my interest. The wine does finish with a bit of an unappealing aftertaste, but nothing as bad as the aftertaste of trying to digest Train’s clichéd lyrics. “If only the good die young, we’ll outlast everyone?” Cool story, bro. And I still don’t know what a Bulletproof Picasso is.
Which is better: Definitely, the wine.
Calling All Angels 2013 Chardonnay
2003’s “Calling All Angels” was a bigger hit for the band, cracking the Billboard Top 20, and the wine that took its name certainly embraces a bolder approach than that of the Sauv Blanc. The nose is inviting, not unlike the swirling opening drone of the song. And both are expertly produced: the song, it’s worth noting, by Brendan O’Brien of Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine and Stone Temple Pilots fame (just to name a few). However, where the songwriting behind “Calling All Angels” proves a bit trite, the wine, dare I say it, brings a touch of complexity to a California Chard – a surprisingly well-crafted balance of oak, fruit and even a dab of delightful dry funk. For the $15 price point, I’m kind of impressed.
Which is better: Though both are technically well-executed, for my tastes, I easily choose the wine.
Drops of Jupiter 2013 California Red Blend
2001’s “Drops of Jupiter” was the first of Train’s three top ten hits, culled from their second record. After self-releasing their debut album, the band pulled out all the stops now that they’d hit the bigtime. This song features soulful verses driven by a nostalgically ‘80s piano part that gives way to a giant string-accentuated chorus. The Red Blend wishes it had that much thrown into it; despite decent tannins, it’s relatively feckless. And though the song deserves some criticism for not really resolving into anything other than a lame “Na na na” outro, the wine certainly doesn’t finish any better.
Which is better: My god, I think the song is actually significantly better here.
Soul Sister 2013 Pinot Noir
2009’s “Hey, Soul Sister” was Train’s biggest hit, landing at #3 on the Billboard charts, a song you probably couldn’t avoid if you tried. Unfortunately, to my ears, it’s just an upbeat rip off of Jason Mraz’s hit “I’m Yours” from the year before. I kind of wish Train had found a better Pinot maker to rip off for this “Soul Sister” wine. Whatever I drank was as lame as a rock song built around a ukulele part.
Which is better: I’ll barely give the song the edge here; at least it drew off of successful source material.
Hella Fine 2012 Merlot
“Hella Fine” isn’t the title of a Train song, but instead, a reference to a lyric in title track off the band’s fifth record, Save Me, San Francisco. It’s an oddity compared to the others on this list, a guitar driven honkey-tonk number that occasionally feels ripped straight from the Rolling Stones’ catalog. Though it does make for a nice change of pace, it’s also uninspired. The wine, a bit too smooth with touches of chocolate-covered strawberry, is equally uninspired, but at least it’ll get you drunk.
Which is better: The song is so mediocre the wine almost has to win here.
California 37 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
As I get to bottle number six, I’m feeling a bit tipsy. I’m also a bit surprised to find the band decided to name a big Cab Sauv varietal after “California 37” – a weak album track that was never released as a single. Listening to the tune, you can tell why they let it languish: a short, highly-affected number featuring unfortunately processed vocals that veer dangerously close to rap territory. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Train during this experience, it’s that their lyrics are awful. And though the band’s Cabernet Sauvignon is nowhere near that bad (no wine could be), much like how the band Train doesn’t deliver on the boldness you’d expect from a “rock” band, this Cabernet falls way short of the boldness you’d expect from the style.
Which is better: The Cab wins, but only because the song is the worst of the lot.
OVERALL: Train’s wines are a lot like their music: In their attempt to please everyone, they typically fail to do anything exciting. That said, I prefer the wines over the music, especially if you’re looking for whites. I give the Chardonnay my seal of approval. But as for the songs… let’s just say I have to be able to show my face around Brooklyn, okay?