Boston has a handful of small but mighty wine bars. Among them is Nathálie, a cozy spot in the Fenway neighborhood filled with natural wines and European-style bar snacks. Led by Haley Fortier — an alum of the Barbara Lynch empire and the owner of another wildly popular wine bar in downtown Boston, Haley Henry — Nathálie celebrates one year in business this month, marking 12 months of exceptional developments, including national accolades and local acclaim.
The winner of Eater Boston’s 2018 award for bar of the year, Nathálie built on the model of its big sister Haley Henry, but it’s far from a copy, according to Fortier.
“It’s a new space and new vibe,” she said. “I really didn’t want to just take Haley Henry and [copy it into a new spot] because I’m a very firm believer that those things never work,” she said. “The key to anything is patience. You have to be able to see the big picture and not just want instant gratification.”
Where Haley Henry locked into a focus on natural wines and tinned fish from the beginning, the food at Nathálie has evolved over time, and it continues to do so under the direction of executive chef Peter McKenzie, who joined the team at the end of 2018. The current menu features a few montaditos — “little bites of Spanish heaven,” per the menu — as well as wine-friendly dishes like squid ceviche in its own ink, pickled patatas bravas, fried Ipswich clams, and a cheese plate.
“I think our struggle in the beginning was really finding our identity there and then learning how to start over again,” Fortier said. “When you see your first business is really oiled, it’s running, it’s hard to be like, why isn’t [the second business] going fast enough? But if I look at the trajectory of everything, it’s exactly the same pace that it was for Haley Henry.”
Fortier, along with managing partner Kristie Weiss and the bar’s staff, manages Nathálie’s constantly rotating natural wine selection, which features mostly small production wines from women-owned operations. Natural wines are a fairly buzzy topic right now, and Fortier’s two bars are fully dedicated to the cause. (A few other local venues — including Rebel Rebel in Somerville, Tasting Counter in Somerville, and Curio Wine in Cambridge — are similarly enthusiastic about natural wines.)
“When you talk about natural wine, you’re talking about wine that is not harassed by people,” Fortier said. “It really is just what it is — minimal intervention. There’s not really a definitive answer on ‘natural’ because there are no rules around natural wine.”
There’s a reason certain bottles of wine taste the same every time, and why natural wines break that form, according to Fortier: “It’s just about not putting shit in your wine,” she said. “I think people are paying attention more now because natural wine is really a wonder. You can have a bottle that we bought six months ago that sat on the shelf for six months and it doesn’t taste anything like when we first bought it. Why? Because there are so many particles in the bottle still, it’s still kind of growing. And that’s why there are no rules around natural wine because you really don’t know what to expect.”
For Fortier, who said that her personality defaults to patience and balance, it’s the perfect fit for her two businesses — with natural wine, you have to be open to different tastes and evolution. Some of the best options for exploring come from within the country, according to Fortier.
“I’m actually really excited about some producers in the USA, because the United States for the longest time had this really bad reputation as just being California cabs,” she said. “There are some really great producers doing some really amazing things.”
Customers will find such wines rotating through the wine list at Nathálie, including selections from Brianne Day and Patricia Green Cellars in Oregon, Martha Stoumen and Onward Farmstrong out of California, and Krista Scruggs of ZAFA Wines from Vermont, to name a few. All single glass pours at Nathálie are made by female winemakers, and Fortier estimates that 70 to 75 percent of the bottles on the bottle list are as well.
The wine list at Haley Henry is quite different, and it’s the distinction between her two businesses that Fortier values.
“We might have some crossover on producers, because there’s a lot of great things, but my entire staff at Haley Henry goes to Nathálie to drink, and my entire staff at Nathálie goes to Haley Henry. Why? Because they have completely different wines, which is amazing. When you own restaurants, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to be able to buy in bulk and then distribute it,” she said. “But for me it’s really more about the intimacy of the place and really trying to curate something that is noticeable and not just for my own staff — because they’re hungry and striving for more and more and more — but for the people that we’re serving. It’s incredible to have people walk into the bar constantly and not even look at the menu and just be like, ‘Just pour me something amazing.’ That feels really good. It’s important to be able to set yourself apart from every other place that’s opening and really curate the list and the vibe that you want.”
This story is part of a series of features highlighting the 2018 Eater Awards winners. Stay tuned for the next installment, and look back at a feature on 2017’s taproom of the year, Lamplighter, here.