In July, Haley Fortier opened herhaley.henry wine bar along the route of Boston’s Freedom Trail in Downtown Crossing, with a selection of wines that had never been seen there before. She took over a teeny 686-square-foot space with 20-foot ceilings, built a mezzanine for wine storage with a 26-seat bar underneath that feels like the hull of wooden boat and filled shelves with her favorite tinned fish.
For seven years, Fortier had previously worked at Sportello, Barbara Lynch’s pasta spot in Boston’s Fort Point. But after looking around Boston for a few years, Fortier came to realize that there just wasn’t a wine bar there like the ones that she’d been to and loved in Spain, Portugal and Paris—places without a big restaurant overhead, with affordable wines from small producers. So she took this challenge on herself.
She’s working with a particular set of small importing companies in New England to bring in wines that aren’t on every list around the city—in several cases, she’s the only one who has them. “I really want to introduce things to people that don’t have a huge price point, especially when I’m trying to get them to drink things they’ve never heard of before,” she says. “The idea is to get people excited about and drinking new stuff.”
With summer’s end, Fortier has switched up her selection of whites to deeper fall flavors. “I’m looking for wine that carries a little bit more weight, a little funk to it, a little earth to it but also has that crisp minerality still on the back end, so you kind of have a little bit of both,” she says. This takes her to regions in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and even Slovenia. “I think we definitely try to look more to Mediterranean flavors, especially because our menu speaks to that,” says Fortier.
The tiny “kitchen” behind the bar produces an impressive selection of crudo, ceviche, salads and toasts, along with charcuterie, cheese and the aforementioned tinned fish. And her by the glass list is full of eye-opening wines, but there’s even more depth in the bottle selection. Commit to two glasses with a cohort, and she’ll open a bottle up for you. “It gives a people a better chance to explore the menu and not feel bad about it,” Fortier says.
Check out her half-case of picks for mind-bending cool weather whites.
This blend ($35) of gewürztraminer, riesling and pinot gris comes from France’s Alsace, a region that’s largely known for white wines with outstanding acidity and depth. The couple who make this wine are extremely hands-on and even use a horse to plow their vineyards. “Their grapes are from land that’s technically grand cru territory, but they don’t get accreditation for it because they’re not making the wines the way it’s legally supposed to be done,” says Fortier. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have same elements to it.”
Fortier describes the wine as being a pale golden color with elegant white flower flavors. “This is one of those wines that continues to grow once you open it,” she says. “So if we opened it today, it would actually taste better two days from now. There’s so much life in it. This is a great wine for that person who’s going home and drinking two glasses and just cozying up under a blanket and the TV and not finishing that bottle until the second day. It’s more exciting the second day.”
This wine ($39) from Italy’s northeastern Collio region, along the Slovenian border, is made from pinot grigio, but it’s not like any pinot grigio you’ve ever seen before. “Honestly, the color is rustic. It’s really, really deep, deep, deep, deep orange,” says Fortier. “Orange wine carries characteristics of both red and white, so if you’re still trying to hold on to those last couple of days that are 90 degrees but you want something with a little bit more, I always go to orange wine. This one has a little spice to it; it’s got a lot of citrus and tang.”
What sets this wine apart from most pinot grigios is that the producer leaves the fermenting juice on its skins for two years, which not only gives the wine color but structure, too. “People think of pinot grigio as dry, fresh, crisp—all of the things that this wine is not, which is why it’s probably called Not.”
Fortier swears by orange wine as the ultimate Thanksgiving pairing: “I think it just has the weight on the back of your palate that just makes you want to eat poultry. I great up in New Hampshire, and I have a big family. I think we had 20 or 30 people at Thanksgiving one year, and we had a 40- or 50-pound turkey—it barely fit in the oven. You have the salt from the stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes and oven golden turkey, and I brought orange wine one year, and that was it. It was like, Ahhh, I’m bringing orange wine every year. It pairs really perfectly.”
“This winery’s in France’s Savoie, right on the Swiss border, where you have that altitude and the weather, cold air, fresh clean, winter winter winter,” says Fortier. The grapes are grown on very steep, rocky ledges, which translates to a very stony mineral-driven wine. This argile blanc ($38) is a blend of chardonnay and local grapes, jacquère and mondeuse blanche.
“I like that this blend hits on more of the chardonnay notes, without being thick and buttery and oaky,” says Fortier, who tends to abstain from wines of that sort. “When I was putting the list together, I was thinking to myself, Oh, man, how am I going to put stuff on there that has that weight and that isn’t to my liking? How am I going to put things on there for everyone else? But then I tasted this, and it was like ding ding ding!”
4. 2014 Farmstrong Field White
“This is from a California producer, Faith Armstrong-Foster. It’s California designated, but I think it’s from two separate plots in the Suisun valley,” says Fortier. She loves the quirky blend of albariño, grenache blanc and verdelho for complex structure, pretty earthiness and defined acidity in the wine ($27). “You don’t find those flavors in a lot of New World wines,” she says. “To have something of this caliber is really fun and promising for the U.S.”
5. 2009 Domaine Perraud Clisson Muscadet
“Muscadet is not one of those grapes that you think to yourself, Oh, this is a fall wine,” says Fortier. “When people think of muscadet, they think of it with oysters. I think of it with shellfish; I can see a seafood tower in front of me, and this is exactly what you’d want to drink it with. But this one has honey to it; it’s got some herbal notes, like dried dill, but really, really elegant.”
What sets this apart from most drinker’s expectations of muscadet is that it’s much older than what we normally see on menus. Fortier has the 2009 vintage. (The current vintage costs $21.) “We might be the last to have the 2009. It’s so fun because it’s from a seventh-generation winery, run by a father-son team,” says Fortier. “We have this wine listed under ‘Weight a Minute’ because it does have some weight to it. Anyone that’s tried it here is just surprised by it. I think the next vintage that they have is maybe 2012 or 2013, but ours is 2009, and we have the last of it.”
Trebbiano is planted in nearly every region in Italy and can often be just sort of crisp and bland—a very basic white wine. But when in the right hands, as evidenced by this from Tenuta Terraviva, an organic producer in Abruzzo, it can become something quite different.
Fortier uses this bottling essentially as a barometer for a guest’s readiness to drink more challenging orange wines. “This is kind of on the fence between white and orange wine,” she says. “So many people come in and don’t know anything on the wine list, so they’re like, ‘What is this? What is this? What is this?’ And we try open up their minds a little bit. With this one, I’ll say, ‘OK, it’s a little orange but not completely orange. See if you like this.’ It’s the perfect fall thing when we’re thinking about apple cider, apple donuts, apple everything, because it’s pretty concentrated and thick and has apple and bright fruit to it; it just keeps going.”