Two years ago, The Improper gave a rave to haley.henry, Haley Fortier’s downtown wine bar, and the next summer called it Boston’s Best Wine Bar. We loved its teensy space and novel menu of luxury tinned seafood, but especially its unusual, small-production wines, mostly made by women using natural methods. Over in the Fenway, Fortier recently debuted her second effort, Nathálie, with the help of haley.henry managing partner Kristie Weiss and executive chef David Cavilla, plus new executive sous-chef Kunal Datta (ex-Sportello). As at the original, the space is charming as hell, and the wines are novel and thrilling.
Seven wines by the glass reveal Fortier’s unique sensibility. The 2017 Tenuta Gorghi Tondi ($12) is a floral, straw-toned grillo, one of a 30,000-bottle run that sisters Annamaria and Clara Sala made biodynamically at a winery set in a Sicilian nature preserve. The non-vintage Filipa Pato 3B rosé ($12) is a Portuguese sparkler by the up-and-coming eponymous winemaker, using the little-seen baga and bical varietals to pretty-in-pink, bone-dry, berry-scented effect. Sisters Marilina and Federica Paternò produce the 2016 Tenuta di Fossi Sikele ($14), an organic Sicilian grecanico to which fermentation on the skins adds a coppery orange tone and fascinating depth. The 2015 Crociani Rosso di Montepulciano ($12) is a ruby-toned sangiovese blend made by Susanna Crociani with the intensity and subtlety of much costlier Tuscan reds. Winemakers and proprietor alike share a love for bracing, unusual grapes and flavors.
As at haley.henry, buying two glasses at Nathálie gets you half of any bottle on the list. It’s a great way to encourage the kind of exploration that led us to winners like the 2017 Cantina Filipi Castelcerino Soave ($56), a pale, nutty, acid-balanced garganega from the Veneto, and Francesca Castaldi’s 2016 Pianazze ($48), a nebbiolo quite unlike more famous, tannic cousins such as Barolos: It’s all clean, unoaked stone fruits and herbs. You’ll also run into the occasional limitations of young winemakers and organic methods. For instance, both the 2014 Channing Daughters Ramato ($72), an orange pinot grigio from Long Island, and the 2016 Anne-Sophie Dubois Fleurie L’Alchimiste ($60), a gamay Beaujolais, promise depths in the nose but deliver only two dimensions on the palate, lacking oomph in their back ends. (Or maybe you prefer those no-bottom wines, in which case you can uncover them at low risk.)
Cavilla and Datta’s menu is more wine-complementary than destination dining, starting with simple, salty snacks like corn nuts ($6 for plain or nacho-cheese-dusted versions) and dull olives ($7). More interesting and substantial are montaditos: tapas of grilled bread with toppings like fierce anchovy, butter and tomato ($5), mild salt cod with caramelized onion and parsley ($5), wondrous grilled eggplant with spicy mayo and crispy garlic ($3) and luxurious mussels with pancetta butter and chives ($5). A generous mezze plate ($20) features excellent floppy pita, marinated roasted red peppers and three fine spreads (hummus, tapenade, whipped feta), while Wasik’s cheese plate ($22) offers three superb selections—on one visit, Reyes Bay Blue (raw cow from California), Breibirousse (French sheep) and Gouden Kaas (Dutch aged cow)—with fig jam, raw honey and ficelle.
Some of the food is photogenic as well as delectable, like a brick-toned tomato soup ($14) floating bits of fried cheese, rosemary and EVOO, and a foie gras torchon ($20) atop cornbread and apple butter. Good vegetarian plates include a loose salad of baby kale ($13) bulked up with slices of delicata squash, pungent Gorgonzola and tart yellow gooseberries, and a mushroom and charred broccolini casserole ($16) with goat cheese and tomato. Bigger eaters might order heftier entrees like a slab of pork shoulder ($20) with roasted root vegetables or the daily seafood special called “She’s a Catch” ($20), on one visit consisting of housemade campanelli, pristinely fresh, thin-sliced scallops and fresh favas and cubes of pancettas in a simple butter sauce, lacking only a hint of acid for balance. Desserts are iffier; we enjoyed streusel ($9), a loose cobbler of oat crumble and corn kernels over stewed blueberries garnished with labneh and mint, but a banana pudding ($9) with candied peanuts was dreadful, an underthickened fiasco.
Non-oenophiles can opt for a choice of crafty New England draft beers ($7-$8) that lean sour or IPA-ish, or a few simple, refreshing cocktails and highballs ($12). There’s also a short list of amaros ($8-$11) for after dinner. The room offers an airy yet intimate vibe, its 40 or so seats evenly split between comfy banquette/lounge seating, bar stools and counter seats at the tall street-facing windows wrapped in an industrial-chic palette of muted tones and textural surfaces (wood, metal, crushed velvet). Service is attentive and enthusiastic if occasionally imperfectly polished (we got poured some wines without a taste first), and the quirky wine groupings (Playful/Fiery/Elegant) could be bolstered by more specific regional information. But those feel like quibbles in what is otherwise one of Boston’s most exquisite oases for wine lovers. Nathálie is simply a sensational second outing from a wine evangelist with a very specific, idiosyncratic and perfectly of-the-moment point of view. ◆
Wines by the glass and bottle, with direction from the staff
Nacho cheese corn nuts
Montaditos of eggplant, anchovies and mussels
House mezze plate
Wasik’s cheese plate
Foie gras torchon
Nathálie, 186 Brookline Ave., Boston (857-317-3884) nathaliebar.com; Hours: Sun. and Thu., 11:30 am-11 pm, Mon.-Wed., 3-11 pm, Fri.-Sat., 11:30 am-midnight; Liquor: Full; Reservations: Parties of four or more; Parking: Metered street spaces, nearby private garages and lots