My sherry amour, a pretty little drink we can all adore

The maiden aunt's tipple is enjoying a revival. But is it the 'Downton' effect?

Mary Poppins' employer, Mr Banks, would have one at precisely 6.02pm each night, while the Downton Abbey set would demand a drop before supper. Sherry, popular in the 1970s, is shaking off a staid reputation and undergoing a revival.

Bars dedicated to the drink have sprung up across London and the rest of the country in the past year, including, in the capital, Capote y Toros, serving the drink with ham, in Knightsbridge, Pepito in King's Cross and José sherry and tapas bar in Southwark.

The revival is also credited to the rising number of restaurants serving sherry, such as Oloroso in Edinburgh and Paul Heathcote's Grado in Manchester. Authentic Spanish restaurants, such as Barrafina, Brindisa and Cambio de Tercio, are reawakening diners to a drink more associated with elderly spinsters and trifle.

M&S, which has seen sherry sales rise 15 per cent in the past three months, talks of a "Downton effect". Sue Daniels, its sherry winemaker, said: "Sherry is one of the best kept secrets in wine, and seeing it enjoyed by the Downton Abbey characters has obviously sparked our appetites for it – it's great to see it having a revival."

Patrick Sandeman, an owner and director of Lea & Sandeman wine merchants, said sherry sales have risen by 20 per cent over the year.

Jeremy Rockett, marketing director for González Byass, said: "We have a generation that is new to sherry. People in their forties and fifties didn't drink it because they associated it with their parents, but those in their twenties and thirties are coming to it fresh. The rise of Spanish gastronomy and sherry bars are introducing people to it in an authentic Spanish way."

Not everyone is convinced of the "Downton effect". Mr Sandeman dismissed it as "a load of tosh", while Mr Rockett said: "Downton may have a positive effect but, on the other hand, whenever Dot Cotton has a glass of sherry it just reinforces the image of it being a drink for old people."

Aperitif through the ages

1st Century BC First mention of sherry by Strabo, a Greek geographer, who writes about vines being brought to Jerez by the Phoenicians.

16th Century Shakespeare refers to the sherry sack, when Falstaff says in Henry IV, Part II: "If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack."

17th Century Ben Jonson is appointed Royal Poet in 1619, and awarded "a butt of Sherry Sack" and £200 a year for his verse.

20th Century Sherry exports rise dramatically from 1944 to 1970, but then decline as it goes out of fashion.

21st Century It's back, with sales rising 9 per cent this year.