It was 2005. I was in New York City on business, and convinced (not that I had to twist his arm) my business partner to come to a restaurant called Cru with me for the first time. I had been reading about Cru for years, and positively salivated at glimpses their wine list online. To make a long story short, Robert Bohr suggested a bottle of Furmint. It was my first taste of the grape outside of Tokaji dessert wine, of which I had tasted only a few at that point as well.

I swooned, and reviewed the wine on my blog. And all of a sudden, I had dozens of Hungarians commenting and sending me e-mails. My traffic spiked, and I had no idea what was going on.

It turns out that my review had been picked up by a major newspaper in Hungary and they had written about it on their web site.

Ever since that first taste of Furmint, I've made an effort to taste as much Hungarian wine as I reasonably could without leaving San Francisco. But I've long desired to visit the region and get a better sense of where their centuries-old wine traditions are leading them these days.

So when I got the invitation to judge the Pannon Wine Challenge, a Hungarian national wine competition two years ago, I was heartbroken at not being able to attend. I swore on my life that if they invited me the next year, I would go.

And here we are. I'm hanging out at the airport waiting to catch my flight to Budapest to finally begin my odyssey to Hungary. I'll be judging several hundred wines over the course of a couple of days next week for the competition, and then, courtesy of the organizers, heading out to Tokaj, Eger, Szekszard, and places in between to meet some winemakers and taste what they're up to.

I'll have an afternoon and a morning to wander around Budapest, and plan on hitting a few wine bars and interesting restaurants while I'm in town.

Judging is pretty grueling work, so I'm not sure what I'll be up for, but I'm hoping to blog a bit along the way to share my experiences in one of the more extraordinary wine regions that gets far too little attention in the U.S.

Búcsú! (goodbye).

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